Penguin Festival

December 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

There isn’t much that’s more Christmassy than a penguin, as we saw last year with Monty in John Lewis’ Christmas advert. Penguins have always been a huge part of RZSS Edinburgh Zoo’s history – from historic links with the Salveson company who supplied penguins to the Zoo as far back as 1914 to the knighting of Sir Nils Olav, the king penguin, in 2008. Not to mention our world famous Penguin Parade, which began when a keeper accidently left an enclosure door open and a few penguins waddled out! So what better opportunity to celebrate our penguins than with a special winter Penguin Festival?

Earlier in the year, we were contacted by art curator Paul Robertson who introduced us to the work of Ottmar Hörl – a German conceptual artist, art professor and sculptor. We were immediately struck by the installations Professor Hörl creates – the displays of large numbers of sculptures together which alters the way you look at the pieces of art. Ottmar Hörl has developed memorable models of identification and universal emblems that have come to be part of our collective memory, such as the Euro Sculpture erected in Frankfurt am Main in 2000 and the Soap of Innocence, first issued in 1997 in an edition of 82 million copies.


Ottmar Hörl’s penguins, in particular, were an ideal fit for the Zoo and something we were sure our visitors would enjoy. We decided that the main lawn in the centre of the Zoo would be an ideal location, so then set to work figuring out how many penguins would be required to fill the space. After mapping it out, we settled on ten rows of 12 penguins as the most visually appealing formation.

The Penguin Festival opened with a spectacular light show during its first weekend, illuminating the 120 black and white penguins and the historic Mansion House back drop.


There is also an interactive element to the Penguin Festival in the form of a treasure hunt. Five special “Sir Nils Olav” gold penguins are currently hiding in various places around the Zoo waiting to be found. Plus, visitors can enter a competition to win a Penguin Magic Moment if they spot a “Nils”.

GoldPenguinVisitors can also purchase the limited edition works of art, with the penguins being available to collect or be posted in the New Year. It’s a fantastic chance to own a piece of Zoo history, so head over to our online shop to p…p…pick up your very own penguin sculpture today.

Film screenings, storytelling and penguin bubble enrichment will also be going on throughout the festival, so hop on down to the Zoo before it ends on 6 January!

Jo Paulson is Events and Experiences Manager for RZSS, and is responsible for delivering a wide range of events as well as keeper experiences and magic moments at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo.


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

September 6, 2013 § Leave a comment


Although September usually heralds the end of summer with the new school year starting and the weather turning cooler, we have had a

Przewalski's horse foal by Jan Morse

Przewalski’s horse foal by Jan Morse

flurry of new births at both sites in the past week. At Edinburgh Zoo our troupe of brown capuchins welcomed their third new arrival of the season; the infant was born to Sylvania and can be seen on the west side of our Living Links enclosure. And up at the Highland Wildlife Park, our youngest female Przewalski’s horse, Ieda, gave birth to a foal early Monday morning. This newcomer is the Park’s first Przewalski’s foal in five years and the father Hero’s first offspring and can be seen with the herd in the Park’s main drive-through enclosure.

Still up at the Highland Wildlife Park, the team there have been assisting the Alladale Estate rehome all four of their European elk as well as developing a national plan for the species that will help to establish further unrelated groups within the UK, including at least three new holders for the species. These movements are an important part of animal husbandry and species management as it promotes stronger genetic diversity and reduces the risk of inbreeding.

Visitors to the Park may also notice that the red panda area has been fully opened for visitor access. Unfortunately Kush, the red panda cub, is still preferring to spend his time in the nesting box and is only seen outside when carried by his mother Kitty. Keepers will be installing a camera trap in the enclosure to try and learn more about his movements.

Back down at Edinburgh Zoo, we held a members workshop on positive reinforcement training for animals during the weekend. It all went very well with the participants trying, firstly, to train one another to do certain tasks using targets, clickers and rewards and then we even had a guest animal (Diesel, one of our keepers’ dogs) who allowed the children in the workshop to try some hands on training.

blog_sandzooOn Wednesday we bade farewell to our magnificent Sand Zoo, with fifteen volunteers from Scottish Widows on hand to help our gardens team demolish the sand sculpture and disperse the 90 tonnes of sand, which will be reused as part of our on-site bamboo nursery. It was delightful to see so many visitors enjoy our centenary sculpture and beach in the city during the summer.

This week Romain Pizzi, one of the veterinary surgeons at Edinburgh Zoo has been at the International Penguin Conference in Bristol where he gave two presentations on the Society’s penguin work: the first on minimally invasive endoscopic surgery in penguins and the second on the effect of dietary change on mortality in a large captive gentoo penguin population over a 47 year period.

Finally, last Friday we hosted a Members and Adopters night at the Zoo, which was very well received despite it threatening to rain most of the night. The event was attended by 1,100 members, adopters and their guests. During the evening we held special keeper talks, meet the keeper opportunities and animal encounters that all proved to be very popular.

He who plants a tree plants a hope.
~Lucy Larcom

Chief Executive’s Blog

May 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

This week is actually Love Your Zoo Week, now in its third year, the campaign was created by BIAZA (the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Love Your Zoo Week is all about celebrating and raising awareness of the important conservation, education and research work that zoos all over the UK carry out; more than 50 zoos, aquariums and wildlife centres across the UK have taken part.

Assisted-penguin-chick-feeding---keeper-Lauren-Walker_LYZAt Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park we have been releasing videos across the week that give behind the scenes sneak-peeks at the work of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) veterinary experts. We have also taken some great photographs of our keepers doing the daily weigh in of our koalas, the assisted feeding of one of our new penguin chicks (if a penguin parent has a chick a little underweight, we help things along a bit and hand feed their chick whitebait) and egg spraying (during the penguin egg hatching process we spray the eggs with water to increase humidity, which all helps).

The special Edinburgh Zoo clips offer insight into the more unusual life of a zoo vet; footage includes a focus keyhole surgery, an ultrasound being performed on a giant African land snail, the vaccination of a big cat, penguin chick general health checks and small insect work – including discussing fang infections and tarantula leg amputation. The Highland Wildlife Park clips focus on native species and show a capercaillie in lek, an overview of wildcats both in the wild and at the Park and a focus on pine martens. Visit and to see the clips.

Another interesting behind the scenes technique that I’d like to share with you is the monitoring of animals by thermal imaging. Our Head Veterinarian Simon Girling has been testing special thermal imaging equipment to see what benefits it could bring to our animal care. Hot spots on a body can sometimes identify an area needing examination, or can simply be used to help better understand animal physiology. Thermal Image UK has been assisting us in recording images of our rhinos, tapirs and pandas over the past couple of months.


Photo by Thermal Image UK

At Edinburgh Zoo our penguin eggs continue to hatch and we’re up to 11 chicks now. We also have a new male king penguin that arrived this week from Germany to join our bachelor group. Two male smew (also known as sea ducks) also arrived who will join our rockhoppers shortly.

Over in the Brazilian Pantanal, Arnaud Desbiez, our Latin American Field Officer, tells me his team have recently caught up with a male giant armadillo they tagged with a new experimental GPS radio transmitter back in April. It took ten days of intensive searching, and the team had started to believe the tag may have failed, but they found him 20km away from the place he was first located! He had crossed the floodplain; it is this and the lack of roads in the field site that make searching quite difficult, but extremely rewarding.

Onto events – 2,000 younger people enjoyed our first ever Zoo Nights event on Friday 24th May. A totally new venture for Edinburgh Zoo, I’m delighted that we can target a new audience with the wonder of living nature, whilst offering them a fun night out with a difference. The second Zoo Nights event on the 28th June has already sold out I’m afraid; but as the two trial events have been so popular, watch this space as Zoo Nights returns in a greater quantity during summer 2014.

Edinburgh Zoo is also currently taking bookings for special Member’s Research Workshops. As part of our centenary programme of events, on Sunday 31st August we’re holding scientific workshops in the morning and afternoon. Our members can work closely with our keepers to create animal enrichment, learn how to monitor and record animal behaviour, learn about, locate and record native invertebrates on the Zoo site and more. Further information will appear in LifeLinks (our member’s magazine), in the member’s portal and on Edinburgh Zoo’s website.

The Discover and Learning department at Edinburgh Zoo is extremely busy right now – the summer months are some of their very busiest times. On Wednesday 5th they will host a study day for the University of the 3rd Age (U3A), which comprises of retired professionals. The group of 77 people will be in the Budongo Trial lecture theatre for the day looking at primate research and listening to internal and external speakers. On Thursday afternoon a small group of students from St Thomas of Aquins School will meet with our Discovery and Learning team to prepare for a trip they are taking out to Uganda – including visiting the RZSS project in Budongo Forest. They are going to take some film footage for us and interview some of the local people to add to our educational resources.

brass rubbingFinally, tomorrow is the start of National Volunteer Week, so I must give thanks to our team of excellent and dedicated volunteers. At Edinburgh Zoo we receive the help from over 100 active volunteers, with over 12 onsite every single day. Combined our volunteers give us at least 700 hours work free each month, engaging with our visitors, fundraising, promoting RZSS membership and helping to provide support in many other areas. Please do say hello to our volunteers when you see them around Edinburgh Zoo.

Best wishes,

Chris West

Chief Executive’s Blog

May 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Hello again.

GentooPenguinChick_12Well we have exciting news from Penguins Rock, as the first gentoo penguins of 2013 have been born. We now have five chicks hatched in the enclosure. Particularly special, they are the first to be born in Edinburgh Zoo’s centenary year and also in the newly revamped enclosure. The first was born last Sunday and all chicks are doing well so far and we expect more to be born over the next few weeks.

At Edinburgh Zoo three nyala males from the camel house left last week and the young male Charlie was moved down from African Plains to join the remaining resident male Akram. This enclosure is used as a bachelor holding area when the young males reach the age when they need to leave the main herd. Also, now that the gentoo penguins that remained at Edinburgh Zoo during the redevelopment are all back in Penguins Rock, the rock hyraxes have reclaimed Barbary rock and three infants were born to Marguerite at the end of last week. Rock hyrax infants are born with their eyes open and are mobile straight away, so you can see them out and about on the rock and we expect more youngsters to be born soon. When fully grown rock hyraxes are about the same size as a domestic cat or large rabbit and are the closest living relative of the elephant.

As Wednesday 22nd is International Biodiversity Day, it seems appropriate to reference that RZSS is committed to an overall biodiversity plan. Edinburgh Zoo in particular is focused on increasing our already extensive horticultural native species collection and, beginning this year, started to conduct a stocktake of native plants within our grounds. Over the next few weeks we will take delivery of over 3,700 plants which will be used in various animal enclosures across the Zoo, including pandas, koalas and wildcats. In addition, Lothian Buses has donated 800 hazel saplings (Corlyus avellana). The native trees have been planted within the Zoo’s grounds and is another arm to us increasing our plant diversity; some will be allowed to mature into trees and the others will be used as coppicing material to be fed to our animal collection. The saplings used for fodder will be left to grow for between five to seven years, before being fed to our living animal collection including the Zoo’s rhinoceroses, banteng, goral and howler monkeys.

EdiZoo_ZooNights_poster_theListOnto events, there are only a few hundred tickets left for the first ever Zoo Nights on Friday 24th May, so I’d recommend moving quickly if you want to secure a ticket. The Zoo will be transformed for the night, with entertainment with a difference across the Park. The hub of the event is the Zoo’s lawn which will turn into an afterhours beer garden, with street food and a bar; then there’s Jungle Café that will house a silent disco; the Mansion House will boast a Pimms bar; the Budongo Trail – home to our chimpanzees – will become a vintage cocktail tea party; the Big Griller and Sky Trail area will be home to street performers and artists – including comedians, acrobats and jugglers; and finally, the penguin decking area will become a champagne sushi bar. There will also be animal handling and animal talks during the evening.

Best wishes,


Chief Executive’s Blog

May 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last week Romain Pizzi, one of the RZSS Veterinary Surgeons, attended the annual Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland conference, the main human surgeon’s conference in the UK. Our two veterinarians perform endoscopic surgery on our animals and attending this human focused conference allows them to pick up the latest developments in endoscopic techniques and then transfer them to animals.

6. Gabriel, Russel and ArnaudArnaud Desbiez, the RZSS Regional Co-ordinator for Latin America based in Brazil, has just returned from two amazing weeks out in the field and tells me there have been some exciting project developments. There have been two giant armadillo trappings (one re-capture and one of a new individual) and three southern naked tail armadillo trappings (one recapture and two new animals). Excellent news when so little is known about these elusive species! The team has also just purchased some new external GPS transmitters that have been specially made for the project’s needs and the potential data they could generate is thrilling. The GPS transmitter’s batteries last 100 days and are placed at the edge of the amour, however armadillos do have a habit of walking through forested areas and the transmitters can become dislodged. We have to wait and see what happens and what is discovered, so I hope to have more news in two or three months about results of the GPS tags.

Dr Helen Senn, Research Scientist for RZSS, has just been in Agadir, Morocco at the 13th Annual Sahelo-Saharan Interest Group (SSIG) meeting. It was attended by people who are involved in conservation in arid land species and ecosystems. Helen was presenting her genetic research on scimitar–horned oryx, Arabian oryx, addax and dama gazelle, including results from surveying a number of populations in captivity as well as some of the last remaining individuals of addax and dama gazelle in the wild. The data was generated with the intention of gathering genetic information necessary for current management and future reintroduction efforts.

Dr Rob Ogden, Head of Conservation Science for RZSS, visited King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre (KKWRC) outside Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The purpose of the trip was to help the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to evaluate the conservation genetics research facility at the centre. KKWRC is co-managed by ZSL and the Saudi Wildlife Authority and maintains populations of many endangered Arabian species.

I mentioned at the end of last month that we have a new bird box cam on Edinburgh Zoo’s website which is part of a larger programme of 40 nest boxes placed around the site. The blue tits in the nest box have just had three eggs. Blue tits actually lay once a day and only start incubating when they have a full clutch, which can be up to 16 eggs, but more likely seven to nine. Last year our first chicks hatched on 5th May, but due to the slow start to spring we think we are around two weeks behind this year


Provided by John Downer Productions

At Edinburgh Zoo this Sunday 12th May we will have some very special visitors.

Have you ever wondered what the penguin parade looks like from a penguin’s perspective? Well John Downer Productions, the team that created the renowned BBC program Spy in the Huddle, is coming to film our penguins in Penguins Rock – so we might just be able to find out. Full-sized rockhopper cams and egg cams will be deployed into Penguins Rock and the live footage will be streamed into the onsite penguin hut, allowing visitors to get a penguin-eye-view of the Zoo. This event is free with zoo admission. Please visit to get full timings for events across the day.

Onto other events, we have a Hoofstock Walkabout on Thursday 16th May from 7.30pm to 9pm. Our hoofstock keepers will take you on a guided evening tour of the various hoofstock animals around the park. You will be introduced to many of the animals in their care as well as finding out about the latest goings on within the section. Tickets cost £5 for members and £7 for non-members; to book please call 0131 314 0379.

Finally, there have been more animal births at both of our Parks. Only this morning three rock hyrax young were born and another female is also due to give birth shortly at Edinburgh Zoo – so in a few weeks you should be able to spot them out and about on the rocks. Our gentoo penguins at the Zoo have also laid 42 eggs – you can keep up-to-date by visiting our new egg and chick counter on the Penguin Cam

An elk calf was also born last night at the Highland Wildlife Park, our female capercaillie has laid four eggs and the snowy owl and the great grey owl as both sitting tight on their nests – so watch this space! The wolverine now have full access to their new enclosure and are using every bit of it, including climbing the trees.

Best wishes,


Chief Executive’s Blog

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Hello again…

In the near future there are some events taking place that I would like to share with you.

On Wednesday 24th April at 7.30pm Professor Iain Stewart will be at Edinburgh Zoo talking about the rise of the continents and what it has meant for the wildlife on them. Pre-booking is essential for this event, so please telephone 0131 314 0379. The event is £5 for members of RZSS and £7 for non-members.


Photo by Alex Riddell

Thursday 25th follows with a talk from our Head of Living Collections at the Highland Wildlife Park, Douglas Richardson. Taking place at Edinburgh Zoo, Douglas will share all the recent events form the Park and talk about all their important ex-situ conservation work. Again, pre-booking is essential and the same costs apply, so please get in touch on the above telephone number if you are interested in attending.

Finally, I will be giving a talk myself as part of The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) series of lectures. On Tuesday 30th April at 6pm, the talk is called From Gannets to Pandas – 100 Years of Progress at Edinburgh Zoo. As you may know, Edinburgh Zoo is 100 years old this year and I will take this opportunity to reflect on its history, future challenges and its diverse activities. In a world that is increasingly crowded, warming and damaged, the role of zoos is even more relevant as ’refugee camps’ and as centres for environmental awareness. More information can be found at

Now onto the international conservation work of RZSS….


A team of veterinarians conducting chimpanzee health checks at CSWCT, Ngamba Island.

Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), which is funded by RZSS, carries out a variety of conservation and research projects in the Budongo forest, Uganda. There is a camp at the field station which allows long term researchers to come and stay while carrying out their work, the fees for staying in the camp then help to fund extra conservation work in the area. At present there are eight researchers living in the camp working on various projects from chimpanzee habituation to research on bats and amphibians. There are also three main conservation projects currently being run by BCFS; an ex-hunters scheme in a bid to dramatically reduce the number of deadly snares found in the forest, chimpanzee health monitoring and community conservation education.

Scientists at BCFS have recruited 110 ex-hunters who have been given over 250 breeding goats as an alternative to snaring in the forest. Since this has happened over 10,000 snares have been recovered from the forest with the help of ex hunters and since the scheme has started there has been a significant drop in the number of snares being found all together.

This month BCFS held a meeting with 73 participants of the ex-hunter goat project to discuss how things can be improved within the project. Group leaders and secretaries were selected in each group to improve communication within the group as well as with staff at BCFS. The groups are looking to be registered at the local government to allow them to gain support that the government offers to groups.

Ex hunter with goats

An ex hunter with his two goats

Current challenges faced by the ex-hunters are: restricted access to building materials for goat shelters and a lack of pasture for livestock as some of the ex-hunters do not have sufficient land and limited knowledge on animal diseases. It is hoped that through these monthly meetings these issues can be dealt with. Community education projects are also reaching out to local schools to encourage and nurture positive conservation attitudes in the young people of the area.

A lot of work is being done to improve the health monitoring of chimpanzees as well as promoting health education within local communities. Wildlife veterinarians are being trained in chimpanzee health to build up a cadre of experts. The veterinary team has gained skills in conducting interventions involving snared/injured chimpanzees. Eight chimpanzees have been rescued from deadly ‘man-traps’ and released back into the wild.

The vet team were recently invited to assist in the periodic chimpanzee health checks conducted at Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust at Ngamba Island. The health checks provide a rare opportunity for wildlife veterinarians to get hands-on experience on darting semi-wild chimpanzees and the use of anaesthetics. The vets improved their skills in estimating live weights which is necessary for estimating drug dosage during interventions in the wild. The health checking exercise also provided an opportunity for BCFS vets to access biological specimens for comparing wild and semi-wild chimpanzees.

BCFS is also host to another of RZSS’ projects which focuses on amphibians of Cameroon and Uganda (Conservation and research of amphibians in Uganda and Cameroon). In Uganda the project is at the early stages and general surveying of the area is being carried out to identify remnant species and in actual fact a new species was discovered while doing this.

YG_EatingBamboo_1Finally, I cannot head off without giving a final mention to the giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. We have finally seen the much-anticipated crossover in Tian Tian’s hormones which means we are in the final stages before the 36 hour breeding window. This window is expected to occur within the next eight days; however, changes in her behaviour indicate it may be sooner. This is a very exciting time for Edinburgh Zoo and I look forward to sharing with you further developments next week.

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