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

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