Chief Executive’s Blog

May 16, 2014 § Leave a comment


Thursday night I attended a celebration event for the Scottish Beaver Trial, held at Scottish Parliament. The evening was to mark the upcoming end of the official monitoring period of the five-year Trial before it heads into the reporting phase. It was lovely to be able to recognise the efforts of so many people who have been involved in the Trial over the past five years and to hear many positive things from members of Parliament. Although RZSS would like to see beavers returned to Scotland, the future of beavers is ultimately up to Scottish Government, who will receive Scottish Natural Heritage’s findings by May next year.

Celebrating-the-Scottish-Beaver-Trial-frontcoverThe Scottish Beaver Trial has had many great achievements since it began in 2009, such as being voted the UK’s best conservation project in 2013 by BBC Countryfile Magazine and engaging with more than 31,000 people during Trial walks, talks and events. Feedback regarding the Trial has also been overwhelmingly positive; a recent YouGov poll shows 84 per cent of mid-Argyll residents support wild beavers living in Knapdale, while broadcaster Ray Mears has said: “The Scottish Beaver Trial is one of the most considered and well organised species reintroductions ever. Thanks to this project, we can once again see these beautiful creatures at work.” More interesting facts about the Trial can be found in the infographic brochure Return of the native?, which can be found here.

At Highland Wildlife Park, work has now begun to transform the Dulverton Room into a new coffee house and bookshop. The café, which will be called the Oystercatcher, will serve hot drinks, cakes and snacks, and will provide visitors with a second food outlet alongside Antlers. After experiencing its busiest year ever in 2013, the Oystercatcher is just one of many projects in the pipeline to enhance customer experience and accommodate larger visitor numbers at the Park.

From the animals section at the Park, hoofstock keepers have now successfully introduced two new female Przewalski’s horses to the herd in the main drive through reserve. The pair, Shaz and Val, are integrating well and some tender moments, including nose-touching, has been spotted between the females and Hero, the resident male.

Java sparrow by Katie Paton

Java sparrow by Katie Paton

At Edinburgh Zoo, visitors to our Brilliant Birds enclosure will now be able to see a new species – the Java sparrow. Keepers this week released 20 individuals into Brilliant Birds and though they are small they should be easily spotted! The birds can be identified by their pink beaks and legs, bluish-grey body and black and white heads. As their name suggests, they are native to the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Bawean.

Finally, National Geographic has published an excellent article on the work being done by Arnaud Desbiez and his colleagues in Brazil as part of the Giant Armadillo Project. Prior to the commencement of the Project, virtually nothing was known about this keystone species. Two of the biggest discoveries to date for the Project have been the establishment of the giant armadillo as an ecosystem engineer – adapting the local habitat in ways that benefit other species – and the first ever photograph of a baby giant armadillo, taken last year. The feature can be read here:


Drive Nature forth by force, she’ll turn and rout

The false refinements that would keep her out.

~ Horace, Odes


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

August 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Highland Wildlife Park just worked out a wonderful statistic that I want to share with you. With the very recent birth of a litter of wildcats, 74% of the species that could breed have produced offspring so far this year – very exciting! In addition, we have at least one Przewalski’s horse and the adult female goral due to give birth within the next few weeks.


Red Panda adults by Alex Riddell

The red panda kit at the Park has been sexed and is a boy who has been named Kush, which means Happiness in Hindu. Two water vole young have been spotted in the families that are scheduled to be reintroduced as part of the Trossach Water Vole project on Monday 5th August. The two polar bears are also being weighed today and we expect them to weigh one tonne combined.

This week at Edinburgh Zoo we had a visit from CBBC Junior Vets who filmed with one of our Veterinary Surgeons, Romain Pizzi. Romain introduced two youngsters who are interested in getting involved in veterinary studies in the future to our gentoo penguins and giant African land snails. I’m told the children did very well indeed. Romain is performing keyhole surgery on a 110kg Galapagos giant tortoise for London Zoo early next week and is being filmed for a BBC 1 documentary.

Water Vole by Gordon Jack at

Water Vole by Gordon Jack at

Romain and our Conservation Manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer are in Perthshire this weekend performing important health screening checks on wild beavers as part of a RZSS/SNH project for Scottish Government. Incidentally the BBC Natural History Unit for The One Show will also be joining them and filming their important work.

Still with Edinburgh Zoo, the red bellied lemur offspring of Gizmo has been sexed as male and a brown capuchin monkey was also born earlier this week to female Santi in Living Links.

Finally, at Edinburgh Zoo this Saturday 3rd August we have a free event (with Zoo entry) that everyone is welcome to attend. A Bird and Primate Cognition Conference is taking place in the Budongo Lecture Theatre from 9.45am to 5.30pm. Various experts from universities around Scotland and even Europe will be presenting and the topics range from development in personality in corvids, to automatic imitation in capuchin monkeys and the power of friendship in female squirrel monkeys. It should be an interesting morning.

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

Chief Executive’s Blog

September 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

News this week is that there is a Hero in the Highlands! The Highland Wildlife Park welcomed a five year old Przewalski’s – pronounced Sheh-val-skee – horse stallion called Hero; and after a period of quarantine following his arrival he joined the Park’s two mares, Ieda and Sara. The newly formed trio seem to have hit it off and can often be spotted nibbling each other as part of their grooming behaviour; it also helps build bonds amongst the herd. Excitingly for us, mating behaviour has already been spotted between Hero and Sara, so fingers crossed it could mean success for the Park in continuing to breed this endangered species. These animals are the only true wild horse left on the planet as the species has never been domesticated. Native to central Asia, they are perfectly suited to cold winter temperatures and grow a thick woolly coat to help keep the chill out.

At Edinburgh Zoo, our Dwarf Mongoose family welcomed three new kits recently and mother Elvina and father Elmo have been kept busy with their offspring who were quick to set off exploring the enclosure’s tunnels. Elvina and Elmo arrived in January this year, so it was a fantastic surprise when they had their first litter as we expected them to take a little longer to settle in. These social and curious creatures’ size has earned them the name of being Africa’s smallest carnivore, usually ranging between seven and 11 inches long.

As readers of this blog will be aware, as a conservation charity, we work both in the UK and abroad, restoring species, securing habitats and carrying out research. Romain Pizzi, one of our RZSS veterinary team, is off to Beijing Zoo at present as a visiting lecturer. An internationally respected specialist veterinary surgeon, Romain pioneered keyhole surgery on black bears rescued from bile farms in Vietnam, making for a less painful procedure and helping the bears to make a speedy recovery. He will be lecturing to 30 Chinese zoo vets from the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) as part of the First International Chinese Zoo Veterinary Symposium, which is in association with The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education and the Animals Asia Foundation.

Dr Arnaud Desbiez, our Latin America regional coordinator responsible for RZSS’ Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project out in Brazil, has been video blogging the project since it commenced in June 2011. We are now delighted to release a new video each week, following Arnaud and the journey of the project to date. The first video will be exclusively available for our members through their online portal this week; the vlogs will then also be accessible to everybody the following week on our YouTube channel An incredibly exciting project which aims to establish more about these elusive large animals’ ecology, biology and their function within the ecosystem, be sure to tune in for Arnaud’s weekly videos to discover more about the project and these fascinating animals.

Looking to next week’s up and coming events, Monday 17th September sees the Zoo Tots programme of pre-school events kick off at Edinburgh Zoo. With a variety of fun activities, arts, crafts, the programme is perfect for tots aged between six months and five years. The fun-filled schedule runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until 23rd November from 11am to 3pm. To find out more about these events please visit

Until next week,

Best, Chris

Holding out for a Hero in the Highlands

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

The waiting game is over for the Highland Wildlife Park’s resident female Przewalski’s horses, as they welcomed a new stallion called Hero.

Photo by Jan Morse

This five year old stallion arrived last month and after a 30 day quarantine period was introduced to the Park’s resident mares, Sara and Ieda. The three seem to be getting on well together so far, although there was a bit of kicking and chasing to begin with. He been sticking close to his new harem and the herd have been seen nibbling one another.  Part of grooming, the nibbling also helps to strengthen the bonds amongst the herd as a whole.

Since moving in, keepers have already spotted mating behaviour between Hero and Sara. It is hoped that Hero’s first foals will be born next August, this would be great news as it would continue the Park’s successful history in breeding this Endangered species.

Przewalski’s wild horses – pronounced sheh-val-skee – were among the most threatened species in the world, and the horses are named after the Russian explorer, Nicolai Przewalski, who first discovered and identified them in 1880. It is the only true wild horse left on the planet and they were once found roaming throughout the steppes of central Asia from the Mongolia-China border to continental Europe. These animals had become entirely extinct in the wild, with the last sighting taking place over 40 years ago, but thanks to the international zoo effort to conserve the species Przewalski’s horses have been reintroduced backinto Mongolia.

There are now around 1,500 of these wild horses found in captive breeding programmes throughout the world, with a further 250 or so found in the wild population as a result of the reintroductions to their homeland, Mongolia.

Photo by Jan Morse

Douglas Richardson, animal collection manager at Highland Wildlife Park, said:

“Przewalski’s horses have been kept at the Highland Wildlife Park since it opened in 1972, and so it is fitting that we should welcome a new breeding male during our 40th anniversary year.  This species is one of the classic examples of the positive role that good zoos can play in conserving species.  Had there not been a managed captive population, the small group that was seen in the wild in 1968 would have been the last time that anyone would have observed a living example of this wonderful species.  Had there not been a zoo population, we would not have had the animals to send back to Mongolia to once again exist as a wild species.  Przewalski’s horses are iconic for our Park, for those that recognise the conservation role of good zoos, and they demonstrate that extinction in the wild can be reversed.”

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