April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
Early next week we will have visitors coming all the way from the Budongo Forest, Uganda, to Edinburgh Zoo. Monday and Geresomu are field staff will be spending time in the Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo and meeting our staff, volunteers and members.
The Society’s continuing work in Uganda inspired the construction of the Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo, one of the world’s most innovative and interactive chimpanzee enclosures. It is currently home to 18 chimpanzees, the oldest being Cindy who was born on 15October 1965.
RZSS is the core funder of the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda, where Monday and Geresomu work. With the original aim of studying and helping to conserve a group of chimpanzees native to the area, the project now also runs a successful ex-hunter scheme, which aims to dissuade hunters from setting snares which injure or kill chimpanzees, works to improve relations between the local community and forest managers and to educate communities about health care and the risk of tuberculosis transmission from bush meat.
Areas of research currently being conducted at the Budongo Conservation Field Station also include enhancing chimpanzee habitat protection in the face of forest degradation due to agricultural development; researching the primate roots of human language; and gaining a better understanding of the causes and implications of the recent decline in fruiting trees within the Reserve.
Undertaking education activities both at Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, our Discovery and Learning team also have 60 students from Sparsholt College taking part in a study tour next week.
Back out in the field, Arnaud our Latin American coordinator has returned from an action plan meeting of the Brazilian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (SZB) at Sao Paulo Zoo, where a detailed Action Plan for the future of SZB was produced. Arnaud will present the results to the assembly at the SZB conference in May.
Dr Helen Senn and our conservation science team are compiling the final draft of a Dama Gazelle Conservation Action Plan which is being sent to be translated into French next week; this is so it can be distributed in French speaking range states, such as Chad, where dama gazelle are present.
At the Highland Wildlife Park we have the possibility of camel and yak births, so for protective measures we have temporarily restricted the kiang herd to one side of the new entrance reserve walkway, as equids can cause problems when there are births to other species in the same reserve. We do not definitely know that any of the female camels or yaks are pregnant yet, but like the rest of our species in the Park, they show a strong seasonal tendency with the vast majority of births in the spring.
The Park is also waiting on the final health check result on the female European bison born in 2012 as she will be part of a group of females bred within the British Isles that will be shipped out to Romania. These animals will augment an existing, small, reintroduced herd of bison in the Carpathian Mountains.
Finally, at Edinburgh Zoo we are one step closer to the giant pandas’ 36 hour annual breeding window. Working with endocrinologists from the Queen’s Medical Research Institute (QMRI) at the University of Edinburgh, who analyse daily urine samples taken from Tian Tian, we have been able to confirm the all-important crossover of hormones took place on Tuesday 1 April. The crossover occurs when oestrogen levels rise higher than progesterone levels and indicates that Tian Tian should come into oestrus within the next seven to 14 days. The science behind panda breeding season forms just one of many aspects of RZSS’s giant panda conservation and research project. As well as assisting with genetic and ecological research, RZSS also provides funds for work in the wild, such as the construction of bamboo corridors which allow many species, including pandas, to cross into previously isolated reserves.
“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew”
Marshall McLuhan, 1964
February 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week RZSS conservation staff attended the UK’s Government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, which was hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was also in attendance, as well as senior government representatives from over 50 countries, with the purpose of spurring action to combat the growing threat to endangered wildlife and producing new and improved multi-lateral agreements to combat the illegal trade.
During the conference, the Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba unveiled a new initiative aimed at helping to curb the poaching of African elephants for their ivory which utilises the genetic and forensic expertise from the RZSS and TRACE Wildlife Forensic Network.
Elephant poaching is on the increase in Africa as demand for ivory increases in some Asian countries. Statistics show that 96 elephants were killed every single day in 2012 and in 2013 large scale ivory movements were 20% higher than the previous peak in 2011. As part of this new initiative, bone and tissue fragments from elephant carcasses killed by poachers will be recovered and forensic DNA techniques utilised to produce unique profiles for subsequent matching against blood stained clothing or ivory recovered locally or in Asia.
I am delighted that RZSS will be involved in a project which bridges the gap between conservation genetics and wildlife DNA forensics, enabling the Gabon authorities to understand elephant population structure in its National Parks and apply this information to the fight against poaching.
In some light-hearted news from Edinburgh Zoo, the giant pandas are proving to be a real favourite with couples looking to have a more unusual setting for their marriage proposals. Tony Bradford, Visitor Experience Coordinator for Edinburgh Zoo, has helped arrange 35 proposal announcements at the panda enclosure since their arrival! The Zoo’s penguins also occasionally witness a marriage proposal. Edinburgh Zoo’s historic Mansion House is also a popular choice for weddings, with 27 already booked in for this year.
Keeping with the romantic theme, Highland Wildlife Park’s adult lynx pair Switch and Dimma received some Valentine’s Day enrichment from keepers. The pair have proven to be excellent mates and have successfully raised a litter each year since arriving at the Park in 2012. As their first litter was born only months after their arrival, the quick success is testament to how relaxed they are at the Park as well as the keepers’ animal husbandry experience.
Finally, Highland Wildlife Park is seeking 10 eager people for its new volunteer programme, the first of its kind in the Park’s 42 year history. The programme forms part of the Highland Wildlife Park Redevelopment Plan, which has received over £50,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They’re looking for people who have an interest in conservation and wildlife and who want to gain new experiences while assisting in a range of areas across the Park. This includes acting as guides, meeting and greeting visitors, helping with the horticultural upkeep of the Park’s public areas and assisting in our shop and café. People interested in applying for a volunteer position can do so by downloading our Volunteer Application Form from www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk, or in writing to Visitor Services, Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Kingussie PH21 1NL with applications closing 28th February.
The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.
– Ross Perot
January 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
Happy New Year!
It’s been a while since our last blog, but as this one coincides with the Chinese New Year beginning on the 31st January it’s only right that we wish all of our panda followers Xin Nian Kuai Le also. 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse that is often associated with love, romance and relationships…….so fingers crossed for Tian Tian and Yang Guang.
With panda breeding, there are several key things to remember. First, pandas are seasonal breeders, so light levels are important for them as this triggers changes in their body and in the bamboo on which they feed. Secondly, male pandas are in season for around four months of the year (from around mid-Jan though to mid-May) and during this time they will mate with as many female pandas in season as they can; well if the females and other mature males allow them to! Individual panda females are only in season for around 40 hours a year and they have a multiple mating strategy; in other words a female panda in the wild would be mated by several males during the 40 hours she was in peak season.
Therefore, when you are working with two pandas, as we are with Tian Tian and Yang Guang, we have to bring a fair amount of science to the table in order to improve Tian Tian’s chances of producing a cub. In effect, for the panda keepers at Edinburgh Zoo, the panda breeding season has already begun!
As of Christmas 2013, we again began to collect daily urine samples from Tian Tian; these are being picked up and analysed so that we can monitor two key hormones for breeding purposes – progesterone and oestrogen. So far, as we would expect, there is no big news to report regarding changing hormones level, but we are picking up and noticing quite a lot of behaviours associated with breeding in both giant pandas. Tian Tian and Yang Guang are already clearly showing an increased interest in one another and both pandas are fairly regularly seen scent marking now.
Both pandas are in good health, with Yang Guang especially looking excellent and now almost “pink” white, which is what you see in mature male pandas. We’re also seeing food intake increasing in both pandas as they seek to drive their body weight up and take their condition to the best it can be ready for breeding; all fantastic instinctive pre-breeding behaviours that we want to be seeing.
The weather we’re experiencing right now is also the best kind of weather for pandas – cold and bright, with a hint of snow to come. So if any of you are thinking about visiting the Zoo to see our two giant pandas, please do so, as it’s the best time of year to see them. Right now Tian Tian and Yang Guang are more active than usual and, if you are lucky, you may also see Yang Guang performing that famous “panda handstand” as he scent marks his enclosure!
January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
A belated Happy New Year to all!
January is already shaping up to be a big month for RZSS. On Thursday, we accepted £100,000 in funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, which marks the start of a long term relationship.
As a conservation charity we receive no government funding, instead relying on donations and visitors to our two zoological parks. This much-appreciated funding will help RZSS to maintain both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park and help our crucial conservation projects at home and abroad. The role of a 21st century zoo is vital now more than ever in terms of conservation, education and research and these funds will go a long way towards helping RZSS make a difference.
I also have the privilege of announcing that Tian Tian, our female giant panda, has won Gold in the Favourite Panda Outside of China category of the Giant Panda Zoo Awards! Voted for by the public, this is an immense acknowledgement and I would like to congratulate all who work with our giant pandas. This is Edinburgh Zoo’s fourth award in the Giant Panda Zoo Awards, after winning Silver for Panda Campaign of the Year, Silver for Yang Guang for Favourite Panda Outside of China, and Gold for Iain Valentine for Human Panda Personality in 2012. Well done!
Finally, next Saturday marks 100 years since the arrival of penguins at Edinburgh Zoo – the first ever to be seen in Europe. On 25th January 1914, six months after its grand opening, the Zoo received a donation of six penguins from Salvesen Co. The four king penguins, one gentoo and one macaroni had made the momentous journey from South Georgia all the way to Leith Docks aboard the Salvesen ship ‘Coronda’. Historically, penguins have always been an important species for Edinburgh Zoo and RZSS. We were the first zoo in the Northern Hemisphere to successfully breed king penguins, and the first in the world to breed macaroni and gentoo penguins. Our knowledge and expertise also led to Edinburgh Zoo establishing the European breeding studbook for king and gentoo penguins in 1998 – both of which we still hold.
Penguins remain hugely popular with our visitors. The penguin parade, which began in 1951, still runs daily and is world famous. Sir Nils Olav, the king penguin, is also world-renowned as the highest ranking penguin. The mascot for the Norwegian Guard, he has risen through the ranks from Lance Corporal all the way to Colonel-in-Chief. In 2008, he received a knighthood which was approved by the King of Norway and the Norwegian Guard visits him regularly. Even BBC’s Spy in the Huddle spy cams paid our penguins a visit last year!
The 100th anniversary of penguins at Edinburgh Zoo ties in with Penguin Awareness Week, which runs from Monday 20th January until Sunday 26th January. As part of the celebrations, an extra penguin talk will be occurring each day at 11am, along with the regular talk and feed after the penguin parade at 2:15pm. Exclusive footage from when BBC’s Spy in the Huddle spy cams visited Edinburgh Zoo’s penguins will also be screened in the Penguins Rock Habitat Hut. Please come along and wish our penguins a very happy anniversary!
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
– John Muir
December 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas and enjoying their festivities. As this is my final blog for 2013, I thought I would ring out the year by reflecting on the many achievements we have seen across the Society as a whole.
2013 saw Edinburgh Zoo celebrate its centenary with a bumper crop of events for visitors, members and adopters. The centenary exhibition held in Central Library in April, then hosted for the rest of the year at the Zoo, received an overwhelmingly positive response; this was perfectly complemented by the BBC documentary Animal Magic, which aired in July. The Zoo also launched its inaugural Edinburgh Zoo Nights events – both of which sold out weeks in advance and are returning in 2014. During the summer visitors were able to enjoy the Zoo’s centenary sand sculpture and beach in the city, helped of course by the superb warm weather.
This year also saw the birth of the UK’s first ever koala joey at Edinburgh Zoo! The joey was born in May to two-year-old Alinga, who had only arrived at the Zoo in February; an immense achievement for the Zoo’s koala team. As solitary animals, breeding koalas requires significant skill and knowledge, so for Alinga to be successfully mated and then give birth after the first attempt is extraordinary.
Of course, I cannot fail to mention giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang, with this year’s breeding season being the first time artificial insemination was performed on a giant panda in the UK. The pair remain exceedingly popular with visitors to the Zoo and have just received their one millionth visitor two years after their arrival!
In terms of infrastructure and development, 2013 saw the grand opening of Penguins Rock, Edinburgh Zoo’s completely refurbished penguin enclosure. The project was one of the Society’s biggest fundraising campaigns for a number of years, with over £138,000 raised towards the £750,000 cost of the renovations. In July, the Zoo also re-opened the newly renovated Koala Territory, which provides visitors with a much more immersive experience. In November, a brand new pedestrian walkway was opened at the Highland Wildlife Park, allowing walkers to enter the Park without a vehicle and get up close to the animals living in the front reserve.
Highland Wildlife Park has also experienced an outstanding year for new births, with 76 per cent of animals able to breed doing so. This has included the arrival of Murray and Viktor, Scotland’s only tiger cubs. The pair were born to Dominika, who was in turn born at the Park in 2009.
In conservation, the Giant Armadillo Project received a commendation in the new discoveries category of BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera Trap 2013 Awards – this project is doing amazing work in raising the profile of a very illusive creature within its native South America as well as around the world. September saw the launch of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, a crucial project aimed at safeguarding this iconic native animal from extinction. RZSS is a key partner in the project, with Highland Wildlife Park set to play an important role in the conservation breeding programme, while the WildGenes laboratory will be involved in the genetic testing of animals to establish an understanding of the prevalence of hybridisation within the species.
September was also the month that RZSS held its first Giant Panda Research Symposium in partnership with Jaguar Land Rover China, during which 65 leading experts from around the world came to Edinburgh Zoo to create a five-year research plan for giant pandas. The Symposium was an opportunity to showcase the wealth of expertise within RZSS and to ensure there is continued global collaboration on the conservation of giant pandas.
In summary, 2013 has been without a doubt an immense year for RZSS and this list is by no means definitive. Although we will have our work cut out for us to beat this in 2014, I am confident we can do so.
December 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
So it’s been a few weeks since our last giant panda update and I’d like to say happy 50th anniversary to Wolong Nature Reserve and happy 30th anniversary to Wolong Special Administrative Region.
Wolong Nature Reserve is the most famous of all of giant panda reserves. The reserve was established 50 years ago, then 30 years ago was awarded special administrative status in China. Originally centrally controlled and managed in Beijing, at this point leadership moved to Sichaun and this local led style of management resulted in an even more effective management of the forest for the wildlife and people living in the reserve.
Prof Zhang Hemin, the Director of Wolong Nature Reserve, is also Director of the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas (CCRCGP), the organisation that runs the panda breeding centre in Wolong, Bifengxia and Dujiangyan City. Zhang Hemin therefore has and oversight and responsibility, not just for the pandas in the breeding centres, but also of the wild population of pandas in Wolong; this combined leadership results in a holistic programme of management of pandas in his care. Wild pandas benefit from knowledge gained during the captive population and captive pandas benefit from the wild population.
Wolong is actually part of the bigger Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an area three times the size of Yosemite National Park that contains around 30 percent of the total wild population of Giant Pandas. Please visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1213 if you are interested in finding out more.
The celebrations for Wolong’s significant birthdays’ and milestones took place in Dujiangyan City back on the 10th November, with representatives from all over the world in attendance. Quite definitely and correctly, Wolong’s celebrations were led by local dignitaries and local people, who as well as looking at the past, had a clear view of the future direction of the reserve.
Of course too, the day could not pass without mention of the deadly Sichuan earthquake which struck the region on the 12th May 2008 and the impact it had for the people and wildlife in the area. An earthquake that in many ways the local area is still recovering from. Also known as the Wenchuan Earthquake, its epicentre was Wenchuan County, which Wolong is part of. Official figures for human casualties as of 21st July 2008 were stated as 69,197 confirmed dead, including 68,636 in the Sichuan province, and 374,176 injured, with 18,222 listed as missing. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, although the number could have been as high as 11 million.
In April 2008, one week prior to the earthquake, several of us from RZSS were at Wolong reserve and whilst there we visited Yingxiu, the last big town you drive through on route up and into Wolong Reserve. On my trip to China last month I purposely visited the town to see how it had recovered, as an incredible 80% had been destroyed in the earthquake, and to see the specially created memorial and museum dedicated to those that died. In that town alone, out of a population of 9,000 people, over 4000 lost their lives. The experience of revisiting the town was both moving and sobering, but also encouraging and uplifting to see the resilience of people in their efforts to rebuild their lives and community.
Of course with such an important reserve and an iconic species like the giant panda on their doorstep, it is little wonder that a large amount of the local economy is driven by panda “tourists”. Hopefully soon the number of visitors to the area will grow even further on completion of a brand new panda breeding centre in Gengda, in Wolong, as the centre at Hetaoping was completely destroyed in the earthquake.
Here is to the next 50 years of Wolong and its important work to protect Giant Pandas!
Iain Valentine, Director of Giant Pandas
December 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
Marty our Amur tiger at the Highland Wildlife Park had a trip to the dentist yesterday for root canal treatment to one of his teeth. What would normally be a fairly straightforward procedure in a human, of course becomes much more complex due to his sheer size of 187kg! A problem for big carnivores like tigers and polar bears, the pulp layer of the tooth is only a couple of millimetres under the surface of the outer tooth, so even chipping a tiny bit of tooth off can cause problems as the pulp underneath can decay and die. It took six keepers to carry Marty after he was anaesthetised and the procedure took place in the tigers’ indoor show den. The veterinary team started by cleaning away all the dead tissue from Marty’s chipped lower right canine, then a special type of rubber that solidifies was used to repair the gap. Afterwards I’ve been told Marty came round quite quickly and will now be separated from the others and fed soft chunks of meat for the next few days.
At Edinburgh Zoo giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang are about to receive their one millionth visitor and we are obviously delighted. Two years on from their arrival on Scottish shores, our pandas have captured the hearts and imaginations of people throughout the UK and around the world and, as a flagship species, they highlight other crucial conservation work and are invaluable educational ambassadors.
Last week I wrote about the value of enrichment for our animals and touched on keepers enjoying the annual opportunity to offer animals Christmas themed goodies. Well this morning saw sun bear brothers Somnang and Rotana at Edinburgh Zoo enjoy papier-mâché Christmas stockings with their favourite foods and also giant Christmas crackers packed with scented hay, perfect for rummaging through. The bears loved searching for enrichment hidden in their enclosure and with an acute sense of smell were pretty quick to sniff the Christmas boxes out. Also adept at climbing trees, they were able to speedily seek out boxes placed up high too. Many of you will know their story, but the brothers are thought to be around 10 years old and were rescued from the illegal pet trade in 2004 by the charity Free the Bears and arrived at Edinburgh Zoo in 2010.
Earlier in the week the UK’s only troop of snow monkeys got a similar surprise at the Highland Wildlife Park. Treated to tomatoes hung like baubles from Christmas trees in their enclosure, the monkeys used plenty of natural behaviours like foraging and problem solving to seek out the edible decorations. A hugely inquisitive species, the adults and youngsters tucked in with gusto – just as we would with our Christmas dinner!
Lastly, I want to tell you about a new enclosure we will start work on in early January. More details to follow in the New Year, but we will be developing a brand new meerkat enclosure where the old sealion pool currently is. Meerkats first returned to Edinburgh Zoo a few years ago and we have a family of the species behind the mansion house. Hugely popular, we’re delighted to be able to offer a bigger and better enclosure at the forefront of the Zoo. The location of the work means that the Zoo’s Hilltop Safari which takes visitors to the top of the park will be decommissioned, as this is where visitors’ board and the normal route will be inaccessible, however we are excited to announce the arrival of a special mobility vehicle gifted by Allied Mobility. Whereas the Hilltop Safari was only able to stick to a set route, our new vehicle will allow us to take and pick up mobility impaired visitors and their guests to and from most areas of the park. This new service will be offered by our existing drivers who will still provide commentary to visitors using the vehicle.
Seasonal greetings once again,
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin”
William Shakespeare‘s Troilus and Cressida
November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
In news from Edinburgh Zoo, our koala joey is becoming increasingly active and is starting to be seen more and more. Often this is just a limb or a nose sticking out of the pouch, so visitors still have to be very patient to catch a glimpse! Our Visayan warty piglets have had their first health check and the keepers have sexed them as two boys and two girls, though names are still to be chosen. Finally, on Monday a new male king penguin arrived from Denmark. His name is Rainbow and he is settling into the group nicely. Edinburgh Zoo only houses a bachelor group of king penguins at the moment, as females are quite rare.
Up at the Highland Wildlife Park, keepers have been enjoying watching Kush, the red panda cub, learn to climb trees. Despite this being an everyday part of life for a red panda, Kush does seem rather worried about it all! Kush was born in early June this year and is the Park’s first red panda cub. He has become a firm favourite with keepers and visitors alike and can be seen near the visitor centre with his parents Kitty and Kevyn.
This week the Park also received a visit from Rhoda Grant, MSP and the Scottish Environment LINK Species Champion for the Scottish wildcat. During her visit, Rhoda met with Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections for the Park and steering group member for the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group, to talk about the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s involvement in the recently launched Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. Rhoda also had the opportunity to meet the Park’s resident adult wildcats Betidh, Hamish and Zak, alongside three month old kittens Ness and Einich.
Yesterday, I attended Scottish Parliament to hear Colin Keir, MSP for Edinburgh Western open a Member’s debate that commended Edinburgh Zoo’s work over the past 100 years. I was delighted to hear several members of Parliament discuss the achievements of both Edinburgh Zoo and RZSS, as well as share their own personal stories of time spent at the Zoo. This year has certainly been an immense one for RZSS and over the next 100 years, we will continue to work towards our aim of connecting people with nature and safeguarding species from extinction.
Finally, a brief reminder that our carnivore keepers will be holding a Panda and Carnivore Talk on Thursday 28th November from 7:30pm. During the evening, the keepers will discuss all of the recent news within the carnivore section, as well as talk about their work with giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang. If you would like to attend this special event, booking is recommended. Tickets cost £5 for members and £7 for non-members. You can book by either calling 0131 314 0334 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
― Edward O. Wilson