Chief Executive’s Blog

August 29, 2015 § Leave a comment


TianTian13_600x384As you are probably aware, we announced this week that we believe Tian Tian, our female giant panda, is no longer pregnant. Based upon our scientific data, the window has now passed during which Tian Tian would have given birth. Whilst this is sad news, we have been able to make a number of key discoveries relating to giant panda pregnancies which we hope will add to the global understanding of this endangered species. We have also achieved the world’s most comprehensive hormone analysis of an individual female panda. The Panda Team at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo have worked tirelessly the past few months and they have truly done everything to support Tian Tian during her breeding season. We will use what we have learnt this year and hope that next year will prove more successful.

Over the past weekend, across the Atlantic, the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington celebrated the birth of twin panda cubs, but unfortunately the smaller of the two cubs did not survive. I commiserate with the National Zoo and send my condolences on the loss of the cub. No giant panda zoo works in isolation; we celebrate each other’s gains and empathise with each other’s losses as we all work together as part of the giant panda project to save this magnificent species from extinction.

JR_Flamingos_11_JPI am also saddened to hear of the passing of John Ramsay this past weekend. John who was affectionately known as ‘JR’, was the RZSS sculptor and blacksmith, working with the Society for 30 years. JR’s intricate work can be found all across the Zoo, from the intricately decorated wrought iron gates, enclosure locking systems and metalwork on animal enclosures. His legacy certainly lives on at here at the Zoo and his one off sculptures of birds, animals and insects dotted distinctly around the site brings pleasure to visitors every day. The staff here were all fond of him and he will be missed. I send my sincere condolences to his wife and children.

And on a final note with some lighter news, I am writing my blog this week all the way from Sweden, where I am spending some time at a similar organisation to our own – Norden’s Ark – to take a look at some of their conservation programs. I am here to gain some valuable insights into their program but also to share my knowledge and expertise with them as part of a collaborative conservation effort. I have learnt a fair amount in my short time here and will look at how we can implement some of their ideas within RZSS so that we can grow even further as a conservation charity; saving species from extinction.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Chief Executive’s Blog

December 19, 2014 § Leave a comment


Things have been very festive week at both Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo this week.

HWP_MuskOxBOEUFF_CreditJanMorseAt the Park, Boeuf, the six month old muskox, was surprised with special festive enrichment – papier-mâché Christmas puddings. First of all, I must say a big thank you to the staff and volunteers who spent hours building up papier-mâché balls, then painting them to such a high standard. Boeuf and his parents, dad Myse and mum Karin, kicked and head butted the enrichment about the enclosure and Myse appeared to take great pleasure in completely destroying the pudding. It is wonderful to see the family together as Boeuf is a real success story for the Park. Muskox are notoriously difficult to breed due to high neonatal mortality rates and a low tolerance to parasites. Wet weather can also make calves in particular susceptible to pneumonia.

Christmas also arrived early for giant panda Tian Tian who received a panda cake in the shape of a Christmas tree and topped with a carrot star. Panda cake is a firm favourite with both Tian Tian and Yang Guang and is a special nutritional supplement they receive daily as part of their regular diet. Keepers placed the cake on her climbing frame (in an area she wouldn’t usually receive food) as an added enrichment for her. Tian Tian wandered and sniffed about the enclosure before finally finding the cake. She climbed up beside it and gently lifted the star from the top before eating the whole cake. You can watch it all here:

There was more excitement at the Giant Panda Experience this week as it was announced that Edinburgh Zoo has been nominated for two prizes at the Giant Panda Zoo Awards 2014. Yang Guang has been nominated for “Favourite Panda Outside of China” and one of his keepers, Michael Livingstone, has been nominated for the “Panda Keeper of the Year” award. Panda fans and experts from around the world are invited to vote for their favourites at:

Wild About Scotland Bus

Wild About Scotland Bus

To round up the week and truly symbolise the start of the Christmas holidays, the specially designed ‘Wild about Scotland’ educational bus has just finished its first term on the road. Since its launch at St Paul’s Primary School, Whiteinch on 29 August, the bus has travelled 2377 miles to visit 53 primary schools, and welcomed on-board a massive 1,918 eager to learn pupils! The interactive classroom has been developed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and brought to life by a partnership with Clydesdale Bank.

As I sign off for 2014, I wish you all the very best of wishes for the festive season and the new year ahead.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together

~ Vincent Van Gogh

Chief Executive’s Blog

November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment


Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

Beaver Kit by Phillip Rice

This week we were delighted to welcome, after five years of study, the publication of the Scottish Beaver Trial scientific reports by Scottish Natural Heritage. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was a key player in the trial which was a partnership with Scottish Wildlife Trust and was hosted by Forestry Commission Scotland. The Scottish Beaver Trial was the first ever licenced mammal reintroduction in the UK. European beavers were reintroduced to the Knapdale Forest, mid-Argyll after they were hunted to extinction there 400 years ago. The key findings of the reports will be presented to the Scottish Government to enable a Ministerial decision about the future of beavers in Scotland to be decided in 2015. The five year trial included 11,817 hours of scientific monitoring fieldwork which varied from tracking the beavers to water sampling and has engaged almost three million people about beaver ecology. In 2013, we were honoured that the project was named ‘Best Conservation Project in the UK’ by BBC Countryfile magazine.

greatgifts_relatedAs the weather begins to get colder, it signals that the festive period is nearly upon us. Next week, on Wednesday 26 November, the first Christmas shopping night will be held in the gift shop at Edinburgh Zoo. Children of all ages will be able to meet Santa in his grotto and a truly festive environment will take over the whole shop as there will be carol singers, food tastings and special discounts. More information can be found at:

During winter at the Zoo, our popular Animal Antics hilltop show is replaced with an activity in a warmer location and this year our presentations team are running storytelling sessions in the Rainforest Room of the Education Centre. I don’t want to give everything away, however it is an enlightening story with an important conservation message; it follows the journey of Chi Chi the giant panda as he travels through the mountains of China in search of more bamboo because his food source has declined. The story is a reflection of the actual conservation work taking place out in China.

Lasswade High School - China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Lasswade High School – China Trip with Jaguar Land Rover China

Also earlier in the week, I was pleased to sight photos from the recent trip to China by school pupils of Lasswade High School, an experience which I have covered quite closely in previous blog posts and was made possible through a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover China. It is my pleasure to share a couple of these with you.

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

Lasswade students seeing a giant panda

If you are visiting Highland Wildlife Park, look out for the young capercaillie who went on show last week.

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.

~William Wordsworth

Chief Executive’s Blog

August 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Hello again,

As you may remember, in April we had two very special visitors who travelled all the way from the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda to spend some time at Edinburgh Zoo. RZSS is the core funder of BCFS and I am delighted to give you a little update on what has been happening out in Budongo Forest over July.

EX-hunter with goats

EX-hunter with goats

Two more Veterinary undergraduate students from Makerere University were stationed at BCFS for the whole month where they got first-hand experience in monitoring chimpanzee health and behaviours, conducting laboratory procedures and learning about conservation. BCFS were also busy implementing the first phase of the Alternative Livelihoods Programme, a partnership with charity Village Enterprise whose mission is to equip those living in poverty with resources to create sustainable businesses. It targets vulnerable groups and villagers, including hunters, widows and low income earners, around Budongo Forest Reserve and introduces training in enterprise development, conservation values and household sanitation. The beneficiaries chose goat management and growing onions as their enterprise choice for the year and I am looking forward to sharing with you their progress. As part of the support, BCFS also conducted livestock treatment during the sessions and over 800 domestic animals were treated through five villages.

Photo by Kevin Schafer

Photo by Kevin Schafer

Meanwhile, out in Brazil, the RZSS is working to help zoos fulfil their potential role as conservation institutions. In March this year, RZSS helped fund a workshop to create an action plan for the Brazilian Zoo Association. Now, our giant armadillo project has launched a National Armadillo Conservation campaign in partnership with the Brazilian Zoo Association. We have made lots of materials, games, videos, stories and information so that each Zoo can create their own activities. A web site has been created and we hope to translate all the materials to English and Spanish. Zoos in Brazil receive 20 million visitors each year and partnering with them is a great way for the project to reach out to people throughout the country. This partnership also helps create an in-situ / ex-situ conservation link between zoos and field projects.

And of course, as I’m sure you are all aware, there was a lot of excitement at the giant panda enclosure at the start of the week after the announcement that Tian Tian is pregnant. We all have our fingers/paws/hooves crossed it will be third time lucky and tests indicate that she may give birth at the end of the month. Of course, it is still early days and like last year, the late loss of a cub is unfortunately still entirely possible. In the meantime we endeavour to help Tian Tian be as comfortable as possible which (as she is showing sensitivity to noise) includes closing the panda enclosure. We are also looking forward to welcoming our Chinese colleagues next week who will be helping us prepare for the birth. Exciting times!

Chief Executive’s Blog

August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Science summer school at HWP

Science summer school animal behaviour monitoring at HWP

Another successful Summer School finished up last week, however the busy summer period for the Discovery & Learning Department is still in full swing. This was the first week of two for the Science Summer School at Edinburgh Zoo, following on from two weeks at Highland Wildlife Park. The same programme structure is used at both locations, yet details are customised for each. The course revolves around two projects and is for young people aged 16 – 18 years old who have a keen interest in zoology.

The first is an investigative project where they are given a selection of three animals currently not in the collections and are asked to recommend which one animal would be the best suited addition by presenting their findings on the Friday. The project starts with a talk from the head of living collections who discusses the considerations made before introducing any new animals, then students jump straight onto computers and into books and commence their research.

Science Summer School - camera trap setting

Science Summer School – camera trap setting

The second project is a first step into animal research. Students attend talks and classes which allow them to gain practical experience in scientific fieldwork. They set night vision camera traps (apparently foxes, magpies and even badgers are our regular night time visitors) and even have a hands-on class with one of our veterinary surgeons who teaches how to perform basic suturing (albeit, on chicken fillets) and dissect a salmon. Observation of animal behaviour is another key component of this project, and the young people have the unique opportunity to study this first hand.

I always find it fantastic to see such enthusiasm from the students when they’re removed from the classroom environment and working independently out in the field – I often overhear them discussing observations and watch on as they scribble down notes, sometimes whilst even on their lunch breaks! It’s truly a great first leap into zoology.

14_6_27_rhea_Chick4At both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, we are all watching with delight as the first borns of this year’s summer breeding season grow up. The gentoo chicks are beginning to be moved to the penguin crèche where they can be seen learning to swim and dive, some with a bit more natural elegance than others. The two oldest Darwin’s rhea chicks moved to the orchard paddock this week and seem to be enjoying running round their huge new home, and the attention from living on the East Drive. The five otter pups are also getting braver and are beginning to be seen more often. At the Park, the baby Chinese goral has become more visible – like red deer calves, they initially stay hidden for the first 2 – 3 week before actively following their mother. The muskox calf and his mother have now been introduced to the bull and all three animals are now permanently kept together.

On the topic of births, a final note has to be mentioned about giant panda Tian Tian. As the coming weeks are critical for her – we predict this is when implantation could occur and pregnancy may begin – and in response to her sensitivity to noise, we endeavour to create the best environment for her by deciding to close the indoor show dens of the panda experience. Both pandas’ outdoor viewing areas will remain open during this time. I do apologise for any inconvenience caused, however trust you understand the decision. A full update can be found here

Our children may save us if they are taught to care properly for the planet; but if not, it may be back to the Ice Age or the caves from where we first emerged.  Then we’ll have to view the universe above from a cold, dark place. 

~Jimmy Buffet, Mother Earth News, March-April 1990

Chief Executive’s Blog

July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Well Edinburgh Zoo is just finishing week three of Summer School, with one more week to go. Summer School is one of our Discovery & Learning team’s busiest times of the year and we are extremely proud of what we can offer children during the school break.

Down in the Jungle was this year’s theme, we have a new one each year, and the team has done an amazing job of decorating our Discovery & Learning building to look the part. A local studying artist has created a detailed animal mural to adorn the entrance way and the corridors are done up to look like the youngsters are walking through jungle terrain.

14_07_18_SummerSchool_DoorMural_kp_smlEach year we have 400 places across four weeks (100 slots per week) for children aged six to 15. Divided into four different age groups, children learn about the natural world in a fun and interactive way with our education officers. Summer School activities include animal handling, drama, games, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, storytelling and more. The older children will spend time learning about animals, enclosure design and do more in-depth learning.

Each age group will get the chance to create an enrichment device for an animal. A bit like a toy, the enrichment is for the animal to essentially ‘play’ with and offers them a variety of stimulation. Here are some of our jungle themed enrichment devices made by some of our different age groups.

14_07_18_SummerSchool_enrichment_kpHere’s a quick link to one of our senior education officers at RZSS explained more about one of our previous Summer Schools with a Down Under theme

RZSS has also just completed our first offering of a new education programme called ZEST CWR (running 5 May to 10 July). The course was opened up to young people (17-21yrs) across Scotland and launched by Angela Constance MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women’s Employment. By working in partnership with Skills Development Scotland we designed the programme for candidates that were not currently in education, employment or training (NEET’s). The adapted ZEST programme offered six places at Edinburgh Zoo, as well as two places at the Highland Wildlife Park. All participants had the opportunity to achieve the Skills Development Scotland’s Certificate of Work Readiness (CWR).

Also at Edinburgh Zoo this week, a very colourful Mindanao bleeding heart dove has arrived in Brilliant Birds and we shortly hope to find it a mate. Dillon the three banded armadillo has moved into Brilliant Birds too; he has a large open enclosure in the corner of the attraction. A really popular individual, Dillon has been with us for some years taking part in animal handling sessions and the hilltop shows; however this is the first time he’s been on public display. Very lively, you are likely to see him scurrying around and exploring his environment.

Still with the Zoo, our rockhopper penguins are now back in the main enclosure – some of you may know they go up to an enclosure further up the hill for breeding season as the birds have previously bred very successfully at this location. The ten new gentoo penguin chicks from this year’s breeding season will shortly go into the penguin crèche away from their parents to learn skills like independent feeding, swimming and grooming.

Flamingo_nest_1In some mixed news, there was a Chilean flamingo egg laid one morning, but unfortunately the birds accidently cracked it by the afternoon. This is actually still a really encouraging sign and we are hopeful for more eggs. Breeding season for the Zoo’s 34 Chilean flamingos started in late spring when the bird keepers built “mud pie” nests to help stimulate courtship behaviour, such as head flagging, wing saluting, vocalising and aggression between competing males. Around 25 nests were created, each ranging in shape and size. In case you are passing the enclosure to the right of the main entrance and spot two eggs sitting rather proudly on top of two mud pie nests right now, they are actually fake and are just there to offer the birds encouragement! We hope to have more of the real thing shortly.

Finally onto staff news, two of our trainee keepers are now fully qualified as zoo keepers. RZSS has a 99.99% success rate that we are extremely proud off. Come September another seven trainee keepers start their course, so we wish them the best of luck. Michael Livingstone, one of our panda keepers, is also off to China next week to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve to work with pregnant pandas and cubs. This is the first trip to China for Michael, with his panda colleagues visiting last year. I hope to be able to share some of his experiences and photos from his trip with you here.


The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual

~John Muir, letter to J.B. McChesney, 19 September 1871


Chief Executive’s Blog

July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment


Well the weather this week has been wonderful and the animals at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park have been making the most of the glorious sunshine.

In the Highlands the two northern lynx cubs are starting to venture out. Born to female Dimma and male Switch (please do excuse the names – they came to us with these already in place!), the cubs born on 24 May and are now seven weeks old. Visitors have been catching their first glimpses of the pair this week.

Keeper’s also managed to capture the very first picture of our six Pallas’s cat kittens. Born on 30 March to female Alula and male Beebop, the kittens looks rather sizeable already. They are now around three and a half months old. The story of the science behind their conception appeared in one of my earlier blogs. Currently off show until they are around five months old, it is important to keep them secluded as the species young are highly susceptible to toxoplasmosis.

14.08.06_PallasCat_Kittens_DBStill with cats, our two Scottish wildcat kittens born on the 11 April to Betty and Hamish have been named Vaa and Gynack. Both females, their names are in-keeping with all kittens born at the Highland Wildlife Park being named after Lochs.

Both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park have both had Eastern kiang foals. Two were born on the 21 and 22 June at the Park and can be seen in the entrance reserve, and one was born at the Zoo on 24 June. We know already that one of the Park’s foals, born to Boshay, is male.

Kiang foal at Edinburgh Zoo by Sharon Hatton

Kiang foal at Edinburgh Zoo by Sharon Hatton

In Edinburgh, Mya the Goeldi’s monkey gave birth to a healthy infant just seven days ago in the Magic Forest. Mabanja the crowned lemur gave birth to twins early this week in the Monkey House and both doing well so far. This is her first birth and a first breeding of this beautiful species for us so we are all delighted.

Last but not least, I cannot end without mentioning one of our most high profile potential births…

Of course earlier this week we confirmed that giant panda Tian Tian has conceived. However, with pandas this is not as straightforward as it may sound as the species practice delayed implantation. Technically pregnancy has not yet occurred in Tian Tian as her embryo has not yet implanted into the womb, when this occurs pregnancy has commenced. Pandas have very short pregnancies, so if all remains well, she could give birth at the end of August. Timings are very approximate and this is very early days right now, but Tian Tian is very relaxed and in excellent health. When we know more I will update you all.


Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.

~Quoted in Time

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