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

July 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

With the official centenary date of Edinburgh Zoo almost here, our celebratory Sand Zoo is almost complete. An amazing work of art, I’ve been watching the sand sculpture take shape each day. The level of detail Jamie and Andy from Sand in Your Eye have put into the animals’ fur, skin and general form is amazing. In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, we’ve had a massive three by three metre sculpture made out of sand that features animals from Edinburgh Zoo created on our mansion house lawn. There is also a 12 by 12 metre beach in the city complete with deck chairs, parasols and buckets and spades nearby. It’s all been perfect timing with the stunning heat wave we’ve all been experiencing across the country. The Sand Zoo is open from now until probably the end of August – nature dependent! Come in and enjoy it whilst it lasts.SandZoo_completed_kp_12.07.13_web

Still with Edinburgh Zoo’s centenary, BBC1 Scotland will air a documentary Animal Magic – 100 Years of Edinburgh Zoo on Sunday 14th at 7pm. Taking a look back at the Zoo’s history, the documentary is filled with famous faces, both human and animal, as well as spectacular historic footage. It covers how the Zoo has evolved over the past century since 1913 and what our future vision is, as conservation is of course more vital now than ever to protect and maintain the diverse world around us. If you’re unable to watch the documentary live on Sunday it will be available via BBC iPlayer, but here’s also a sneak preview of a couple of clips

RZSS Conservation in Action 2Still with Edinburgh Zoo, our Discovery & Learning team are currently running an event called RZSS Conservation in Action in the Budongo Trail lecture theatre, highlighting the conservation work of RZSS around the world. Drop in until Friday 19th July to learn about four in-situ conservation projects, both at home and abroad: The Scottish Beaver Trial, Highland Tiger project, Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda and the Pantanal Conservation and Research Initiative.

Throughout the summer holiday we will have two Nuffield Research Placement students doing studies at the Zoo. Nuffield Research Placements provide over 1,000 UK students each year with the opportunity to work alongside scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Placements are given to students in their first year of a post-16 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) course. Nuffield particularly supports students who don’t have a family history of going to university or those who attend schools in less well-off areas.

One of our students is working on the Zoo’s long term analysis of how chimpanzees utilise the plants within their enclosure and the other is looking at which animals our visitor’s anthropomorphise (attribute human characteristics onto non-human things) more than others. She will look into what factors dictate the level that we anthropomorphise certain animal species, such as the evolutionary closeness of the animal. Their final reports are due at the end of August, so check back then to hear about some of their findings.

Travelling to the north, this week was the first week of Science Summer School up at the Highland Wildlife Park. A group of students studied three different species and learnt about conservation and science on site, giving presentations of their work at the end of the week. The Park has also been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence – the Certificate of Excellence is awarded to businesses that rank in the top 10% worldwide for traveller feedback.

Moon FestivalFinally, tickets have just gone on sale for a special one off Moon Festival event at Edinburgh Zoo to tie in with the Chinese Moon Festival. On Thursday 19th September guests can enjoy an evening panda viewing on the candlelit walkway and join in a night-time lantern walk to visit other species in the Zoo. We’ll also be serving Chinese tea and mooncakes, traditionally shared during the moon festival. The event will last an hour and a half and there are two timeslots to choose from when booking: 6.30pm to 8pm and 7pm to 8.30pm. Adult tickets are £20 and children are £15. Visit either or phone Jo on 0131 314 0340.


“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
― Gary Snyder

Chief Executive’s Blog

June 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Our bird team at Edinburgh Zoo has managed to capture some rare footage of the female southern cassowary Sydney laying an egg, after surveillance were cameras placed in the birds’ nesting site when they started to show promising breeding behaviour

There are currently six eggs in the nest, which Billy the male is incubating. We’re not certain if successful mating took place or if the eggs are fertile, but we’re hugely encouraged by this enormous step forward in the breeding programme for this pair. Listed as Vulnerable, it’s been 27 years since we’ve had cassowary chicks at Edinburgh Zoo, although in 1986 we were the first collection in the UK to successfully breed southern cassowaries. Breeding this species is particularly difficult due to their highly aggressive nature, as cassowaries are renowned for their large, dagger-like claws and powerful high-kicks that can prove fatal.

Still at Edinburgh Zoo, for four weeks following Monday 1st July our very popular Summer School begins. This year the theme is celebrating 100 years of Edinburgh Zoo and we have 100 children aged six to 14 years old attending each week. The children are split into four age groups and enjoy lots of different actives onsite – including animal handling, trails, games, making enrichment, storytelling and arts and crafts. The older children also get involved in animal observation and look at aspects of enclosure design.

sandzooMonday 1st July sees the delivery of 90 tonnes of sand to the Zoo. To celebrate the 100th birthday a huge sand sculpture and a beach in the city are being created. Sponsored by Thomson Holidays, the Sand Zoo will measure a gigantic seven by four metres at the base and be three and a half metres high. The fantastic beach on our lawn outside the Mansion House will be 12 by 12 metres and be complete with deck chairs, parasols and buckets and spades. Our Sand Zoo is being created by an amazing company called Sand in Your Eye – to get an idea of how incredible our sculpture is going to look have a look at their gallery of previous creations

Finally, onto panda breeding…we were pleased this week when our PR team won an industry award for Innovation and Integration regarding the panda breeding season. The world’s spotlight turns on us each year during the breeding window and its great recognition for us. Still with pandas and breeding, you may have seen reports that we suspect Tian Tian might be pregnant. I just wanted to clear up that it is still too early to tell at this stage and any suggestion that the female panda is pregnant is pure hopeful speculation. We may not know for a good few weeks yet. We are only eight weeks post artificial insemination at the moment and we have not detected a second rise in progesterone in Tian Tian yet. This second hormone rise will then either indicate pseudo pregnancy or a real pregnancy, and if real, then confirms we are 40 to 50 days from a potential birth. Pandas also show nesting behaviour whether they are pregnant or not. As soon as we know either way we will let everyone know the outcome, until then we wait in suspense alongside everyone else. A cub would be amazing for the overall conservation effort and for visitors to Edinburgh Zoo.

Best wishes,

Chris West

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