Chief Executive’s Blog

December 14, 2015 § Leave a comment


Welcome back to the CEO blog. Over the past few months we have welcomed new blogs from across RZSS, with a number of colleagues now posting regularly about their fascinating and vital work. We’ve been delighted to bring you updates covering everything from giant armadillos to Scottish wildcats and the latest developments from our WildGenes lab and Wild about Scotland bus. Soon we will be bringing you even more stories from across the Society, including the life of a new trainee keeper at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park and updates from the Living Collections departments. Watch this space!

Last week one of our greater one-horned rhinoceroses, Samir, left RZSS Edinburgh Zoo for Istanbul in Turkey as part of the overarching breeding programme. Whilst it is sad to see him go, the two male rhinos at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo had reached an age where they were sexually mature and, as part of ongoing international efforts to save the species from the threat of extinction, Samir will soon be joined by a female. It is hoped the pair will breed and help further reinforce the safety net population of this threatened species. The move mimics the natural process of rhinos in the wild, with males becoming solitary once they reach breeding age and disperse in order to find a suitable mate. Bertus, the other male rhino, will stay at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo as we continue to work up our plans for the next generation of rhinos at the Zoo.


Photo by Jamie Grant

In other conservation news, Fred Babweteera – Director of the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda – and Arnaud Desbiez – the conservation biologist and RZSS’s Regional Conservation and Research Coordinator for Latin America who leads the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in Brazil – both spent last week at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. We discussed in detail the work of RZSS in these two far flung locations, alongside future developments and plans for these two groundbreaking conservation projects. With so much achieved in 2015 – from Arnaud’s Whitley Award to the 25th Anniversary of BCFS – there is much to look forward to over the coming year.

On 8 December, RZSS’s Conservation Projects Manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer gave a talk at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Institute of Zoology for their ‘What is the future for beavers in Britain?’ event. The event discussed the topic of whether beavers could be successfully re-established in Britain and what effects they would have on local diversity. Roisin’s talk looked at beaver restoration in England and the importance of founder selection.


This past weekend, an exciting one-off Penguin Festival opened at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. The Festival started on 4 December and will run right through the festive season until 6 January. The main feature of the festival is a large art exhibition by notable German artist Ottmar Hörl. The installation consists of 120 black and white penguin statues, displayed upon the main lawn outside the Mansion House at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. To launch the festival we hosted a Penguin Festival Lights event on Sunday 6 December, which saw the Zoo stay open later and the penguin art colony and Mansion House brightly illuminated. For details of other daily Penguin Festival activities please visit

And finally, the keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park donned their kilts and traditional Scottish attire last Monday to celebrate St Andrews Day. Despite being surrounded by snow, the team seemed completely unfazed by the cold weather and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate St Andrew’s Day in style!


“Our inability to think beyond our own species, or to be able to co-habit with other life forms in what is patently a massive collaborative quest for survival, is surely a malady that pervades the human soul.” – Lawrence Anthony




Chief Executive’s Blog

October 19, 2015 § Leave a comment


I have recently returned from a trip to the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda, where we are celebrating a double anniversary: it is the 25th anniversary of the start of the conservation project in the Budongo Forest and it is the tenth anniversary of RZSS’s involvement with BCFS.

Photo by Sarah Robinson

Photo by Sarah Robinson

This was my first visit to the station in Uganda and it was remarkable to be able to witness the work of BCFS in the forest. For those of you who are unfamiliar with BCFS, it is a conservation project – of which RZSS is the core funder – which blends research and conservation to ensure sustainable management and utilisation of the Budongo Forest Reserve and all its wildlife. The station conducts world-class scientific research on the chimpanzees which inhabit the Budongo Forest and welcomes scientists, students and researchers from around the world. The research and activities at BCFS support policy development, conservation action and sustainable resource management.

BCFS_School_Project_SarahRobinsonI spent a week at the research station with RZSS Head of Conservation Programmes Sarah Robinson and Director of BCFS Fred Babweteera, who showed us around the station as well as some of the other communities and projects which BCFS supports, such as local communities and schools. It was also wonderful to be able to witness the chimpanzees in their natural habitat in the Budongo Forest; some of the chimpanzees even strolled through the camp.

I am also very pleased to announce that HRH The Princess Royal, the Society’s Royal Patron, delivered a talk as part of the Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom series at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo on the evening of Thursday 15 October. The Tribal Elders talk, entitled “Committed to conservation: you can make a difference”, was a sell-out event and as a thank you for her support as Royal Patron, HRH The Princess Royal was presented with a gift of a handmade silver hair comb adorned with an intricately crafted greater one-horned rhino; created by RZSS Silversmith in Residence Bryony Knox. The gift was presented on a tray, handcrafted especially for The Princess Royal by residents of the local community in Budongo, Uganda.

151015_TE-0099And finally, in news from our other conservation projects, this week Neahga Leonard visited the Conservation Team at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo to talk about the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project. The Cat Ba Langur or Golden-headed langur is endemic to the islands of Ca Ba in Northern Vietnam. Numbers were reduced to less than 100 individuals, largely as a result of poaching and for over a decade, Münster Zoo, the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP) and Vietnamese conservation agencies have been collaborating to bring the poaching of langurs under control. As the project manager based in the Cat Ba national park, Neahga talked about some of the challenges being faced, milestones and future missions of the project going forward.

Our Giant Armadillo Conservation Project team in the Pantanal have been busy including the surrounding community in their search for giant armadillos. Distribution of posters and pamphlets throughout the local communities as well as taking education tools into to schools continues to support their efforts and help people recognise signs of Giant Armadillos in the area. There is also the potential to expand the outreach programme into 100 more schools in 2016 which is a very exciting prospect which will further help educate and engage the younger generation with the conservation of this important species.

“Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

– Jane Goodall

Chief Executive’s Blog

September 7, 2015 § Leave a comment


Pallas's Cat by Jan Morse, RZSS

Pallas’s Cat by Jan Morse, RZSS

I have just arrived back in Edinburgh following an interesting trip to Norden’s Ark in Sweden last week. I was accompanied by two members of the RZSS Conservation department, Sarah Robinson (RZSS Head of Conservation Programmes) and David Barclay, RZSS Cat Conservation Project Officer. It was a fascinating and rewarding trip, during which we signed a three year agreement with the Snow Leopard Trust and Norden’s Ark for conservation and research projects of Pallas’s cats and snow leopards in Mongolia. Project work will commence over the next few months and I look forward to keeping you updated as the projects develop.

Out in Thailand, the RZSS Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Conservation Programme Manager, Dr Ross McEwing, welcomed nearly 20 delegates from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam for a three day wildlife forensic workshop earlier last week. The meeting took place in Chiang Mai Thailand and focused on collaborative approaches to meeting international data standards for wildlife forensics, as well as identifying areas for unifying work across countries. The programme is already receiving great support from a number of countries in South East Asia and aims to encourage other countries, particularly Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos PDR, to participate. The IWT programme aims to deter the illegal trade of animal parts and products, which is one of the biggest threats to the survival of some of the world’s most threatened species.

Elsewhere, in news from our Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in the Pantanal, Brazil, the team are hard at work presenting the Giant Armadillo Project and its educational materials to a team of educators from the Secretary of Education of the Campo Grande Municipality. The team are hoping to launch an outreach and communication campaign on giant armadillos in the 100 schools of the Campo Grande municipality. If this is successful, a state wide campaign will be planned. These environmental education campaigns are key to the Cerrado expansion of the project which will be important to the growth of the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project.


RZSS Residency Programme Launch

Closer to home, we launched the RZSS Residency Programme last week. The event, which was a modern take on the Parisian Salon, was a great success and formalised the appointment of 15 Residents to the programme. The Residents bring with them their own unique backgrounds and knowledge which will be utilised to help raise awareness of the mission of RZSS: connecting people with nature and safeguarding species from extinction. The RZSS Residency Programme aims to engage and excite people from all walks of life about the conservation work of RZSS, both in Scotland and around the world.

The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.

Richard Rogers

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

August 24, 2015 § Leave a comment


CAT Programme_15 - FLYER - ONLINE_page 2_Page_1In September RZSS will launch a brand new conservation programme, the Conservation Action Team (or CAT for short). The CAT programme is aimed at five to 15 years old who are passionate about wildlife and want to protect it. Running once a month on Saturdays for ten months, CAT will encourage children to have fun and work as part of a team to help wildlife. The programme also offers children the opportunity to achieve their John Muir Award and is recognised as an activity by the Children’s University. Please do check out our website for more details on this fantastic new initiative.

In news from our WildGenes laboratory, the team have been using genomic sequencing to determine the father of one of the forest reindeer calves which was born in June at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. This is incredibly useful as we will be able to ensure greater genetic diversity within our herd. One of our research scientists, Gillian Murray-Dickson, is also busy evaluating high genetic data to see if it is possible to design tests which will distinguish wild fish from farmed escapees in the Mediterranean. These tests will then be passed to the Scottish Wildlife DNA Forensics Laboratory for validation as part of a larger EU-funded project. The tests will help to stop detrimental fishing practices and to distinguish wild fish from farmed fish. Many fish farms have escapees, so this project will potentially be able to determine where the fish come from and what genetic impact the farmed fish will have on wild populations.


The Zoo will be hosting a Bee Festival next weekend, from the 29 to 31 of August. The festival links to the Society’s Residencies Programme and will be led by our Beekeeper in Residence Brian Pool. The plight of our bees and pollinators is a serious one and the event aims to raise awareness of their decline, as well as demonstrating how much we rely on them and what we can do to protect our native species. The festival also aims to spark the imagination of young people on the subject of conservation and to show them that they too can make a difference, no matter how small.

15_8_15_Dinosaur_Rickshaw_3Elsewhere, we are also currently running a competition at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo which is linked to our Dinosaurs Return! exhibition and our recently launched “dino-shaws” in the city centre. If you haven’t spotted them yet, we have three dinosaur themed rickshaws travelling through the city. If you spot one, take a “selfie” of yourself with one of the rickshaws, or even just a quick snap of the rickshaw itself, to enter our competition. Selfies with the dinosaurs at the exhibition can also be entered into our weekly competition, with the winner taking home a Living Dinosaur Magic Moment experience at the Zoo. Send your photos to our Twitter and Facebook accounts to enter

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

Jane Goodall

Chief Executive’s Blog

August 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am delighted to announce, that this week, we reached the highest number of members that we have ever had in our more than 100 year history as the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We now have more than 25,000 members, which is a 10% rise in membership numbers since the beginning of the year. As a conservation charity, we rely greatly on members and visitors to help support the vital conservation work we do, both at home and abroad. So I would like to thank every one of our members for your support; without you we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goal of safeguarding species from extinction. We aspire to continue to grow our membership base so that our conservation efforts can reach further.

Jane Hosegood, PHD Student at Bangor University at RZSS WildGenes Labratory - photo by Katie Paton

Jane Hosegood, PHD Student at Bangor University at RZSS WildGenes Labratory – photo by Katie Paton

In our WildGenes Lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, we currently have a PhD student from Bangor University, Jane Hosegood, working with our Senior Technician Jenny Kaden to learn about genomic techniques which she will be applying to her project on manta rays. Jane is working in association with the Manta Trust, Save Our Seas Foundation, TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network and the Natural Environment Research Council. Her project aims to develop tools for the conservation and management of manta and mobula (devil) rays worldwide, which are under threat from target fishing for the illegal trade of their gill plates.

In other news at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, this week we celebrated the 10th Anniversary reunion of our Science Summer School. To commemorate this occasion we held a reunion for all former summer school pupils on Thursday night, 6 August at the Zoo. Past pupils as well as pupils from this year’s course attended the event, which involved a special tour around the Zoo, keynote speakers and a chance to network with the other students. The Science Summer School has been running for 10 years now and is aimed at young people aged 16-18 years old. The free course runs for one week every year and is designed to give students real world experience in the fields of research and conservation within the setting of our Zoo.

71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park – photos by Alex Riddell

And in news from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, the military spent some time at the Park recently, helping with a number of hefty tasks. The 71 Engineer Regiment and the South Dakota National Guard spent the last 10 days at the Park helping to build the foundations for an off-show Amur leopard breeding facility (which I will tell you more about in a future blog post) as well as a management area for our European bison. The military completed their work at the Park on Wednesday and to mark this we held a handover ceremony on Thursday where we presented the commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Foulkes from the 71 Engineer Regiment with three specially commissioned commemorative Amur leopard prints as a thank you for the regiment’s work at the Park.


“The Study of nature is a limitless field, the most fascinating adventure in the world.”

Margaret Morse Nice

Chief Executive’s Blog

August 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am pleased to announce that we have recently received a pair of endangered snow leopards at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, who went on show last week.

The male, Chan, is from Krefeld Zoo in Germany, whilst the female, Animesh, arrived from Marwell Zoo in England. We hope that the pair will have cubs to help increase the worldwide population of these rare cats. They are currently settling into their new home, which is built around a rocky cliff face on a hill in the centre of the Park. As snow leopards prefer to inhabit high mountainous terrain in the wild, their new enclosure is ideally suited to them. The female is still keeping a rather low profile as she gets used to her new environment, but will hopefully soon start wandering out of her pen more regularly.

Snow leopards by Alex Riddell (Male, Chan; Female, Animesh; (L-R))

Snow leopards by Alex Riddell (Male, Chan; Female, Animesh; (L-R))

In light of the arrival of the two snow leopards, RZSS has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Snow Leopard Trust and Norden’s Ark in Sweden, which will see a three year joint partnership with the three organisations. The partnership will focus on Pallas’s cat and snow leopard field research in order to aid future conservation efforts of the species, as well as to act as an educational tool.

In other news from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, the Park has also welcomed the birth of three Scottish wildcat kittens. Born at the end of April, the kittens have recently started to wander out of their den. The birth of the kittens is great news in terms of conservation, as this critically endangered native species is facing the very real threat of extinction. Our organisation, along with more than 20 other organisations, is involved in the Scottish Wildcat Action, which is a partnership project –supported by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund – which represents the best chance the wildcat has of surviving in the wild. The project consists of a Priority Areas Team which is currently working to reduce the threats wildcats face in the wild, whilst RZSS has undertaken a new conservation breeding programme to help build up the population of this species.

15_07_22_ScottishWildcat_kittensAnd in further good news related to big cats, we have received a donation of over £3,000 from Nashville Zoo, in Tennessee, to support our field work support projects for Pallas’s cats. RZSS holds and coordinates the European breeding programme (EEP), as well as the international studbook (ISB) for the Pallas’s cat. Little is known of this Near Threatened species, which is why we have undertaken in-situ field work support in Iran, Nepal, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The project will increase our understanding of this species, thereby allowing better targeted conservation efforts to save this species from extinction.

Socorro dove chick

Socorro dove chick

Meanwhile, at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, an incredibly rare Socorro dove has hatched. This species has been extinct in the wild since the early 1970’s and it is believed that there are less than 100 pure bred Socorro doves left in the world. RZSS has successfully been breeding this rare bird since 2005 and, along with Paignton Zoo, has sent over 12 doves to Albuquerque Zoo in Mexico to form a satellite breeding group in the hope that the offspring of these birds will be reintroduced to their native habitat on the island of Socorro, Mexico, in the near future. The last Socorro dove to hatch at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo was in 2010, so I am glad to hear of the recent hatchling and I hope that it will be able to return to its native habitat in Mexico.

“Nature is an infinite sphere of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.”

Blaise Pascal

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