November 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
By Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
Taking your dog to the vet or putting your horse in a trailer usually involves leashes, halters and a few calm but firm words. Trying to carry out similarly routine procedures with zoo animals is seldom so straightforward and at best involves a very different process.
The keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park have a very positive relationship with many of their animal charges and a range of routine husbandry needs can be managed with the cooperation of the animals concerned. At a basic level, visitors are often strangely surprised when they learn that many animals will respond to being called by their keepers to be transferred into an adjacent area to allow cleaning or enclosure maintenance. The Park’s large carnivore keepers have trained these potentially very dangerous creatures to present themselves at the enclosure barrier for some simple daily health checks. They will, when asked, present a paw or their belly, or hold their mouth open for closer inspection, which is rewarded with some small pieces of meat for the tigers or a range of unusual morsels for the polar bears, like tomatoes or cheese. They, along with the camels, have been trained to walk onto scales so that we can more accurately monitor their weight, which is crucial when it comes to calculating how much medication they might need when sick. This positive reinforcement training is also an interesting and enjoyable experience for the animals concerned as many seem to welcome the interaction with humans that they know, as well as the treats.
Zoo keepers, being a resourceful bunch, will often find uses for items that the manufacturers did not intend. When you need to catch and move a water vole, a small rodent that thinks it is a bear, the tube that a certain salty snack comes in is the ideal restraint and short transport device as they will happily walk in of their own accord.
For more invasive procedures, like a dental check, the animals need to be anaesthetised for their own and our safety. There are a range of drugs that have proven to be as safe as possible for the animals and staff around them. Sometimes hand injected, sometimes delivered using a dart gun, it takes between 10 and 20 minutes for the animal to go down; it is not virtually instantaneous, as often depicted in films. When the drugs appear to have taken effect upon a tiger, one very gently taps on the ears and eyelids with a long pole. If there are any twitches or blinking, you wait a bit longer. When a new drug combination came along it was discovered that the usual gentle tapping was not enough. You could touch the ears and eyes and get no reaction and the animal would appear to be safe, but if you pulled the tail and the drug had not quite taken effect, the cat could jump up and start moving around, which is a touch disconcerting, so always give the tail a couple of tugs before going all the way in!
This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald
June 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
We have just sent off more than 100 Partula snails (also known as Polynesian tree snails) to the Zoological Society of London, to be screened as part of our overarching re-release programme. As you may or may not know, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has been involved in the conservation of the Partula snail since 1984.
The last remaining individuals of different species of Partula snail were recovered from French Polynesia and the Society has been successfully breeding these since 1986. Most species of Partula snail went extinct as a result of predation by the introduced, carnivorous rosy wolf snail. However through the combined efforts of a number of zoos, we have successfully managed to bring the numbers up for these species, which has allowed us to start re-introducing them back to their native habitat in Tahiti. The Partula Global Species Management Programme is coordinated by ZSL London Zoo and combines the breeding programme for 17 species in 16 different zoos around the world with conservation work in the Polynesian islands. RZSS Edinburgh Zoo was given the very last captive individual of the Partula taeniata simulans variety, which the Zoo then bred back to a safe level of several hundred, as luckily that individual had been fertilised and produced viable young.
And in recent news headlines regarding the Scottish Beaver Trial, RZSS along with more than 20 other Scottish environmental NGOs, has written to Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, calling for the Eurasian beaver to be fully reintroduced and recognised by the Scottish Government as a resident, native species in Scotland. This comes ahead of the Scottish Government’s decision about the future of reintroduced beavers in Scotland. The group of NGOs, who combined represent over a quarter million members, concur that a positive outcome for beavers will help ensure that Scotland continues to position itself at the forefront of biodiversity conservation in an international context. The collective see beavers as a missing element in Scottish biodiversity, believing there is both an ecological and moral imperative to restore this keystone species to benefit Scotland’s depleted freshwater ecosystems, as the reasons for their loss are no longer present.
I have mentioned in my previous blog at the beginning of June that we are also currently involved in a ground-breaking pine hoverfly conservation project. This is the rarest species of hoverfly in Britain and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. We are busy breeding a captive population with the hope of releasing them into artificially created tree holes in the woods in Speyside. In an update, the RZSS pine hoverfly larvae are doing very well and there is plenty of evidence of increased growth.
Finally, our resident veterinary surgeons Dr Simon Girling and Dr Romain Pizzi and RZSS Conservations Projects Manager, Roisin Campbell-Palmer, had a paper published this week titled Haematology and serum biochemistry parameters and variations in the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber). The article is available to read in Plos One.
“The conservationist’s most important task, if we are to save the earth, is to educate.”
– Peter Scott, founder chairman of the World Wildlife Federation
May 26, 2015 § Leave a comment
Our Giant Armadillo Conservation Project team in the Pantanal has recently managed to find Alex, the young giant armadillo which they have been tracking for nearly two years. Last week, veterinarian Camila Luba, who specialises in reproduction, caught up with Alex to examine him and take samples to determine whether he has reached sexual maturity.
This is vital information and the samples taken from the young armadillo have determined that he is still an immature male which, at the age of nearly two years, is quite surprising. Whilst there has been little research done on the Xenartha species (group of placental mammals found only in the Americas, such as anteater, tree sloths and armadillos), it has been discovered that young giant anteaters are already sexually mature by the age of two. This data continues to confirm the long life cycle of giant armadillos and we are now discovering how long it takes for individuals to even reach sexual maturity.
Dr Arnaud Desbiez, RZSS Latin America Coordinator and lead on the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project, will be in Buenos Aires this week to help facilitate at the ALPZA-CBSG Strategic Planning Workshop for Integrated Conservation, taking place between 29 and 31 May. ALPZA is the Latin American Zoo Association and CBSG is the IUCN Species Survival Commission Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. The main objective of the workshop is to develop a strategy that points out how ALPZA members and other Latin American zoos and aquariums should act towards biodiversity conservation. Over 30 participants from zoos throughout South America will come together, alongside representatives from the Association of Zoo and Aquariums (AZA), European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and some International NGOs.
Romain Pizzi, Veterinary Surgeon at RZSS, presented a talk about wildlife surgery at the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZWV) conference in Barcelona, last week. The conference was attended by over 350 zoo and wildlife vets from Europe and further afield. This week, meanwhile, Romain will present to an assembly of human surgeons, medical engineers and health care providers at the International Research Centre for Digestive Cancer (IRCAD) and European Institute for Tele-Surgery (EITS) at the University of Strasbourg. His talk will explore innovations in delivering human surgical interventions in third world countries.
I joined RZSS Conservations Projects Manager Roisin Campbell-Palmer in Knapdale last week to meet with Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, to discuss beaver reintroduction to Scotland and our work at the Scottish Beaver Trial to date. This is ahead of the decision by Scottish Government later this year on the future of beaver reintroduction to Scotland.
And finally, HRH The Princess Royal paid an official visit to RZSS Edinburgh Zoo on Friday 22 May. HRH has been the Society’s Royal Patron since 2009 and last visited the Zoo in September 2013 to celebrate our centenary year. The Princess Royal’s visit coincided with two very important ten year conservation anniversaries for RZSS, as the Society has been working with chimpanzees in Uganda and giant armadillos in the Brazilian Pantanal since 2005. To celebrate, HRH visited the Zoo’s innovative and interactive chimpanzee enclosure, the Budongo Trail, to discuss the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda and to see Velu, the first baby chimpanzee to be born in Scotland in 15 years, who has his first birthday next month.
“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for – the whole thing – rather than just one or two stars.” – David Attenborough
November 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
First of all I would like to give you a little update from Arnaud Desbiez, RZSS Latin America Coordinator who is stationed in the Brazilian Pantanal. I last updated you in my blog of his work on the Giant Armadillo Project in August and since then the Giant Armadillo Project team has run two field expeditions to monitor all the animals which we are following. One of the main tasks of the October expedition was to fit a GPS tag on 16 month old giant armadillo Alex who we have been following through camera traps since his birth and was the first ever photographed baby giant armadillo in the wild. On the final night of the expedition, the team successfully fitted a GPS tag on Alex which will enable us to continue to learn more about him as he becomes more independent from his mother. This addition means we are now monitoring a total of seven giant armadillos through a combination of cameras and telemetry – a record for the project!
RZSS veterinary surgeon, Romain Pizzi, was also in Brazil this week. Romain is in Rio Grande do Sul, one of the Southern states, where he is teaching wildlife surgery to Brazilian veterinarians. I am sure it will prove to be a valuable teaching experience for all and will help build and enhance the capacity of the veterinarians.
Back in Scotland, I’m sure you have all seen the recent Christmas advert for John Lewis. A realistic CGI penguin plays the starring role and we were honoured that the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo helped inspire the advert; the advert’s production team spent a day in May observing the behaviours of our penguins as they waddled and porpoised through their state of the art enclosure. At Penguins Rock this week, keepers have heard visitors discuss the movements they can see within of our colony and relate these to some of the behaviours of Monty the penguin. It is wonderful for us to watch as members of the public get excited about observing natural behaviours of animals.
At Highland Wildlife Park, Arctic foxes Elf and Kilian have donned their winter coats as their fur has turned white and become denser. This is a natural annual transformation which not only helps protect them from the cold of winter, but also camouflages them in their native Arctic landscape.
We are currently hosting three students from the University of Edinburgh who are studying for an MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement as part of an eight week placement for their course. The students are based at Edinburgh Zoo and have been concentrating on gaining visitor feedback on some of the interpretation throughout the site. I’m looking forward to hearing their findings which I trust will prove insightful and refreshing. They have also had the opportunity to meet with staff across numerous departments which has enabled them to get a broad overview of RZSS and all the jobs involved.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
November 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Red November may sound like the name of a horror movie or a particularly gruesome historical happening, but it is actually a fantastic conservation event organised by the British and Irish Associate of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) to celebrate the significant contribution of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in guiding conservation action and policy decisions over the past 50 years.
Both of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s animal collections at Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo are developed under the guidance of the Red List and our primary focus is often on species classed as Vulnerable or worse. The IUCN Red List has also had a positive impact in regenerating the wild populations of threatened species.
As the name suggests, Red November is taking place across the entire month of November, and the Highland Wildlife Park has set a conservation challenge for visitors, inviting them to solve clues across the Park and be rewarded with interesting facts about some of our species. Extra talks from our keepers will focus on the individual Red List classifications of animals – with categorisations ranging from Least Concern to Extinct in the Wild, with Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered in between. The presentations will also explain the threats to each animal’s survival and hopefully inspire action and discussion towards biodiversity conservation.
As an added bonus, the driver of any red cars during November will also be given free entry to the Highland Wildlife Park.
Our discovery and learning team have been in Skye and Fort William this week with our excellent Penguins to Pandas and Beyond the Panda educational programmes. The team have carried out 42 sessions between August and now, with many more due before the end of term.
Earlier this week Marty the Amur tiger featured in an episode of ‘Vets: Gach Creutair Beo’. A Gaelic series, viewers are taken on a journey across Scotland following vets as they tend to animals from small, to large, to the very wild. In this programme vets met Marty when he had toothache earlier this year and filmed how we treated and helped him.
Finally, we have the next in our new series of Tribal Elders lectures coming up soon. RZSS is pleased to present an evening with Professor Aubrey Manning OBE as the second inspiring address Tribal Elders: Words of Wisdom lecture series.
Recognised as one of the country’s leading authorities on animal behaviour and professor at The University of Edinburgh, Professor Manning is a committed conservationist and I am looking forward to hearing him distil his collected lifetime wisdom. His keynote speech is a challenging and thought-provoking message that explores how humans treat the planet, use finite resources and the effects of the ever-spiralling population growth.
Taking place at 7pm on Thursday 13 November in Edinburgh Zoo’s Budongo Lecture Theatre, tickets are free and available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
“Look into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
This week, I wanted to tell you a little bit more about the work of one of our resident veterinary surgeons, Romain Pizzi.
On Wednesday evening, BBC programme “Operation Wild” gave a first-hand insight to some of Romain’s recent surgeries. Viewers watched with bated breath as he performed ground-breaking keyhole surgery in Laos on moon bear Champa who was constantly in pain from fluid building up in her brain. It’s always interesting to think about how surgeries are performed in such remote locations – as in this case, unstable conditions need to be adapted to and it’s always a case of thinking on your feet! A tube was successfully implanted into her brain which drained the excess fluid into her abdomen. After her recovery, it was fantastic to see her reunite and play with the gentleman who rescued her as a three month old cub. Back in London, Romain took on the delicate task of investigative keyhole surgery on a Galapagos tortoise. Unable to drill through the shell as it would take years to repair, the tortoise was placed onto her side and the surgery was explored through the side of her leg.
Even though he’s officially on holiday, Romain is still a very busy man. He’s currently at Chanchung Zoo in the Jilin province in the North of China where he, alongside the University of Edinburgh and Animals Asia, are teaching zoo veterinarians from the Chinese Association of Zoo Gardens (CAZG). More than 70 vets attend this biennial conference which helps improve the knowledge and clinical skills of vets working in zoos across China. This year, one focus was to teach the use of thermal imaging to assess dental and arthritis problems in zoo elephants. Romain also spent time in the Southwest of China at the giant panda centres in Dujiangyan and Bifengxia which are run by the Chinese Centres for Research and Conservation of Giant Pandas (CCRCGP). Here, as part of the joint research agreement between RZSS and CCRCGP, he investigated potential benefits of minimally invasive surgery on giant pandas both at the centre and in the wild.
This week at Edinburgh Zoo, we were delighted to see our chimpanzees all together again as new mother Heleen and eight week old son Velu were welcomed back into the troop. After his birth, we slowly integrated Heleen and Velu back into the main chimpanzee group – starting first with other females and her closest male allies before slowly building up to where we are now. Velu is a French word for hairy and if you manage to catch a glimpse of him, which is quite difficult as Heleen cradles him very close to her chest, you will certainly be able to see why!
May 9, 2014 § 1 Comment
Fans of Highland Wildlife Park’s polar bears, Walker and Arktos, can now watch the pair live via Polar Bear Cam. Due to the Park’s remote setting in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, the camera is powered by a solar panel and a mini wind turbine, and uses satellite broadband internet – the same technology that’s used by the military in isolated areas. The innovative use of this technology could actually lead to advances in wildlife research in some of the world’s most inaccessible and harshest areas, including Antarctica, as it can be run remotely using natural power sources and satellite internet. Currently, the camera focusses on the enclosure’s large pond, which means watchers will now be able to see Walker and Arktos splash and play. To begin with Polar Bear Cam will stream live from 9:30am to 2:30pm, with pre-recorded footage then replayed outside of live streaming hours. It can be watched via http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/polar-bear-webcam
Still up at Highland Wildlife Park, keepers this week performed their first health check-up on the two Mishmi takin calves born last month to Cava and Rosie. The girls are in excellent health and integrating well within the herd. Cava and Rosie are both seasoned mothers and take very good care of their offspring, which the keepers have christened Khaleesi and Arya – it appears we have Game of Thrones fans in the animal department! Highland Wildlife Park has been home to Mishmi takin for six years, with the first calves born in 2008, and also manages the European breeding programme for the species. Currently there are seven members of the herd, including the two latest arrivals. Mating usually occurs around July and gestation lasts eight months, with females giving birth to a single young every one to two years.
In an update from our veterinary department, this week, Simon Girling, Head of Veterinary Services for RZSS, lectured for a day on diagnostic imaging of exotic pet, zoo and wildlife to delegates enrolled in the European School of Veterinary Practitioner Studies. He also lectured for a day on medicine and surgery of Squamata (scaled reptiles) to final year undergraduates at the Royal Veterinary College. Many RZSS staff members regularly speak at global conferences, as well as university lectures, which is an important exercise in sharing expertise and expanding our understanding of conservation, research and science.
Down at Edinburgh Zoo, we recently received a visit from Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women’s Employment, who met with our new ZEST Certificate of Work Readiness students. The new ZEST work experience programme offers eight placements across both sites to young people aged 17 – 20 who are not in education, employment or training. It runs for a total of 10 weeks in a variety of departments including animals, discovery and learning, visitor services and works, and upon completion will provide the students with a Certificate of Work Readiness qualification to go towards future employment.
Finally, everything is coming together nicely for the first of 2014’s Edinburgh Zoo Nights on Friday 23 May, which is only two weeks away! The evening event is for adults only and is the perfect opportunity to explore the Zoo out of hours while enjoying Friday night drinks with friends or colleagues. We will have a whole new host of performers including fire throwers, comedians, musicians, plus many others, as well as street food, face painting and a silent disco. There are a limited number of tickets available for the night and more information can be found here. http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/events/2014/05/edinburgh-zoo-nights-may-23rd/
In its broadest ecological context, economic development is the development of more intensive ways of exploiting the natural environment.