Chief Executive’s Blog

July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week I wanted to tell you about developments taking place with some of the carnivore young born this summer at the Park.

Last month on 15 June our red pandas at Highland Wildlife Park gave birth to twins. Now almost six weeks old, we picked one of the very few wet days we have had to see if allowing visitors’ access back into the viewing area for the red panda would be disruptive to the adults and their young.

Red panda cub by Alex Riddell

Red panda cub by Alex Riddell

These twins are the second successful red panda birth to mother Kitty. Last summer Kitty reared a single male cub named Kush, who was recently sent to Curraghs Wildlife Park on the Isle of Man as their new breeding male. Kush was the first red panda to be born in the Society’s animal collections in 13 years. It is unusual for red pandas to produce cubs on consecutive years, so this is a very strong indication that our enclosure, diet and husbandry regime is perfect for our animals.

Douglas Richardson and his team choose a wet day on purpose in the hope that there would be fewer visitors and so it would make it easier for us to monitor and close the area again if needed, but oblivious would be one way of describing the animals’ reaction to the reappearance of visitors. With carnivores, and indeed many other animal groups, keeping disruption down to a minimum and privacy at a maximum can be essential when raising young.

Red panda cub by Alex Riddell

Red panda cub by Alex Riddell

The kits are still not visible to the visitors unless mum is transferring them to one of the other nest boxes, which is normal behaviour for the species, but at least the adults can be more readily viewed again. The cubs should shortly be sexed and named, and will soon start to be more visible to our visitors.

We have tried a similar approach with the northern lynx as the female is currently rearing her third set of twins; she normally has them in the bushes at the front of the exhibit, so the Park always ropes this area off. A short while ago she moved them into the shed at the side of the enclosure and then to the secluded area at the rear, near the Pallas’s cat exhibit.  She seemed pretty calm and the kittens were just starting to show themselves and our excellent animal team removed the temporary barrier. Like the red pandas, no obvious changes in behaviour other than the two kittens becoming more and more visible were seen. Then, the other day, the team were delighted to see all five lynx (dad, mum, big sister from last year and the new twins) come down to the front when the keepers were putting the food in – a very exciting development!

Sometimes a much more cautious approach is needed though, in particular with our adult female Pallas’s cat and her six kittens in their special off-exhibit facility. This is only one of three or four captive litters born globally this year and ours is the largest. The species’ vulnerability to toxoplasmosis is at the heart of our carefully planned husbandry protocol, and although we are not quite out of the woods yet, it certainly is looking very good.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world 

~ John Muir


Chief Executive’s Blog

November 15, 2013 § Leave a comment


Rainbow_kingpenguinIn 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.

Photo by Alex Riddell

Photo by Alex Riddell

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

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”
― Edward O. Wilson

Chief Executive’s Blog

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment



Lynx kitten by Alex Riddell

With the sudden crisp bite in the air, I think it is safe to say autumn has well and truly arrived! Keepers at the Highland Wildlife Park have even reported seeing snow on the Cairngorms this week. This is a wonderful time of year to visit the Park, to see the change of scenery and the different behaviours of the animals. The stags have all started rutting and the lynx kittens can often be spotted playing. Kush, our elusive red panda cub, has also started spending more time outside of his nest box and can be seen cautiously exploring the nearby platforms.

In news around the Zoo, Simon Jones, Curator of Plants and Head of Sustainability is teaching turf theory this coming Saturday as part of the Master Gardener Programme, which is a partnership between The Royal Caledonian horticultural Society (Lead), RZSS, RBGE and Binny Plants. Our onsite Adult Education classes are also proving to be very popular. This week Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections at Highland Wildlife Park came to speak to the group about some of the challenges of dealing with welfare and animal behaviour in zoos.


Doug Allan

Still at the Zoo, last night’s centenary lecture, hosted by wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, was a great success. There were 170 people in attendance – a full house – as Doug discussed his work in the field. Specialising in the polar regions, Doug’s BAFTA award-winning work includes Operation Iceberg, Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Life, Human Planet, Ocean Giants, Frozen Planet and Secrets of our Living Planet. No other cameraman is as experienced when it comes to filming in the Arctic and Antarctic.

This draws to a close our special guest lectures for the year, which have covered a very wide range of topics. Guests have included Lee Durrell, Iain Stewart, Aubrey Manning and Andrew Balmford. We do, however, still have two upcoming RZSS talks:

On Thursday 24th October at 7:30pm Simon Jones, Curator of Plants and Head of Sustainability will be talking about the wide range of work undertaken by our dedicated gardens team. Zoo horticulture plays a significant role in the Zoo, from maximising the best visitor experience to ensuring the right plants are used in every animal enclosure. Simon will also talk about the Zoo’s on-site bamboo nursery and tell some remarkable stories about many of the beautiful flowers that can be found around the site.


Photo by Mike Gilburt

And then on Thursday 28th November at 7:30pm our carnivore keepers will be presenting a Giant Panda and Carnivore talk. During the evening, they will provide insight into the wide range of animals they care for at Edinburgh Zoo including Asiatic lions, otters, meerkats, giant anteaters and painted hunting dogs. They will also talk about their work with Tian Tian and Yang Guang, and how caring for these two bears is different from the rest of the section.  

Booking is recommended for both events; tickets are £5 for members and £7 for general admission. For more information or to book visit our what’s on page

Finally, in panda news, Tian Tian, our female giant panda, is still continuing to show signs of being in the late term of pregnancy and so we will continue to treat her in that way, which means she remains off show while keepers monitor her around the clock.

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.”
– John James Audubon

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

New Panda Pair at HWP

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

We were delighted to show off a new panda pair at the Highland Wildlife Park today.  Not the famous black and white giant pandas but another set of bamboo munching animals – a red panda duo!

Red Panda by Jan Morse

Our red panda pair is made up of female Kitty and male Kevyn, at both just one year old, this colourful new couple have settled in well together.

Although naturally shy animals, the pair are very playful with each other and can be spotted following one another through the enclosure or sitting eating bamboo together.

As a threatened species in the wild, it is hoped that this young pair will go on to have cubs that will add to the European Breeding Programme to help ensure the long term conservation of the species.

Red Panda by Jan Morse

Red pandas, also known as fire foxes, are natives to the Himalayas in Nepal, Bhutan, India and southern China. Their body has red fur with long bushy striped tails, pointy ears and distinctive white face markings. Red pandas are ideally adapted for life in a cold climate, with thick fuzzy fur and bear-like feet that help keep them insulated on snowy or icy ground, as well as a long bushy tail that acts like a blanket.

Although much smaller than giant pandas, they enjoy feeding on bamboo just as much, however their diet is more varied and includes fruit, roots, succulent grasses, acorns, lichens, bird eggs, insects, and grubs. Red pandas were once thought to be direct relatives of the giant pandas as they also have opposable thumbs however in reality the red panda is a relative of the racoon family.

Make sure you pay Kitty and Kevyn a visit on your next trip to the park.

Chief Executive’s Blog

September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It seems that winter is almost upon us, and with this in mind Edinburgh Zoo is launching the winter talks programmes from 1 October. Slightly different from the usual talks schedule which takes place daily around the Zoo, it still gives visitors the chance to find out more about some of our other animals and the majority of winter talks take place inside! Be sure to visit the daily ‘what’s on’ section of the website nearer the time to find out more.

Another panda pair, this time the pair of red pandas at Highland Wildlife Park are said to be settling in well together. Kitty and Kevyn, both just over a year old have been getting on well together, although it will still be a few more months before they are sexually mature, they seem to have bonded well with one another. The Park specialises in cold weather adapted species from all over the world, and keepers are hopeful that Kitty and Kevyn will successfully mate and produce their first litter of cubs in the next year or so, which would help contribute to the conservation programme of this beautiful and unique species.

As you know we said farewell to male Patagonian sea lion, Sofus last week. The big move went extremely well and all the positive reinforcement training paid off, as Sofus was quite comfortable entering his transport crate. You can visit our YouTube channel to watch the footage of Sofus leaving

Edinburgh Zoo welcomed four great white pelicans earlier this week, the group is made up of three males and one female. They can currently be spotted in the duck ponds enclosure, before shortly moving to their permanent enclosure at the main entrance. These rather large and impressive birds are well known for their large beaks which they use to scoop fish out of the water. As well as this, they also have a neck pouch which can stretch to hold several litres of water, which they then squeeze out leaving only the fish to swallow.

More exciting news from The Scottish Beaver Trial this week – a conservation project which RZSS is involved with. The team were delighted to spot a new kit at Loch Buic, this is the first kit born to breeding pair Trude and Eoghann. This kit along with the four which were born earlier this year at Dubh Loch, meaning that it’s been a record breeding year for the trial since it began three years ago.

Looking forward to October, I’m pleased to say that October will be all about Creepy Crawlies. From 5 to 28 October Edinburgh Zoo’s Creepy Crawly event will be taking place in the Budongo lecture theatre, with lots of different invertebrates on show including giant Florida katydids, leaf ants, and stick insects as well as many other fascinating species. There will also be Creepy Crawly arts and crafts taking place as well as insect handling sessions, the team will also be joined by the British Arachnological Society who will be on hand to answer any questions about these eight-legged insects. For more information on this event please visit

Finally, I’m off to the annual EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) conference being held in Innesbruck this year. This is the largest gathering of the community from European Zoos and Aquariums. The conference will see over 600 delegates come together to share experiences, and discuss different topics within the community. I thoroughly look forward to us being hosts of this important conference next year at Edinburgh Zoo, which will be a wonderful and relevant honour for the Zoo and the city of Edinburgh during our centenary year.

Until next week,

Best, Chris

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