Tag: Protecting animal populations
On our quest to prevent the extinction of the Asian elephant, we take a closer look at what our Hi-Way herd get up to at night.
From helping breed the first rhinoceros hornbill chicks at the zoo in over a decade, to spending two hours each day chopping food, a life of a Bird Keeper is interesting, varied and two days are rarely the same. Casey Povey tells us what it’s like working with all our feathered friends.
As we approach Mother’s Day, we shine a light on the special women in our lives, who have watched us grow, taught us right from wrong and held our hand through the highs and lows of adolescent life. Some mothers live high up in trees in the tropical rainforests across Sumatra, and have to fight to help protect their families from an ever-changing world, that is driving their species to extinction.
While you’re reading this, we will lose the equivalent of 25 football pitches of rainforest to unsustainable palm oil plantations. Every tree that falls results in the destruction of precious biodiversity that supports wildlife ranging from tiny frogs to our own relative, the orangutan.
It’s up to all of us to do what we can if we are to ensure this precious resource is preserved.
Autumn is a brilliant time of year for spotting garden wildlife. Why not have a go at your very own Autumnwatch and let us know what you’ve seen. We want to know about anything you’ve seen – common and unusual, even if you’re not sure exactly what it is you can send us a photo and we’ll find out for you.
2019 has seen the engulfing of the world’s forests as a warming planet continues to choke under smoke and flames. Despite the trials, heroes continue the fight.
The tequila splitfin, a small species of goodied fish which grows to just 70mm in length, disappeared from the wild completely in 2003 due to pollution and the introduction of invasive, exotic fish species in waters where it had previously thrived.
‘Miss Piggy’ (officially known by the less fun, but more practical, PM07), was first translocated to Wales in mid-September of 2015. It’s been a busy three years for the Pine Marten Recovery Project team since then, and whilst we can’t have favourite martens, Miss Piggy is definitely the one that has made herself the most memorable.
She received her unusual name as she was been driven down from Scotland. Every three hours the van transporting the martens stops to offer them water and blueberries and whilst some of the animals can be very wary of people and will only eat once you have left, Miss Piggy showed no such qualms! She snaffled everything she was offered and didn’t seem at all bothered by her strange surroundings.
Once in her release pen she turned out to be very well named as most of our animals would have a period where they would hide in their box and would wait until they had the cover of darkness to come out and explore their pen and eat the food. Miss Piggy had no such reservations and was out and about within a few hours hunting out all the tasty treats we had left in her pen.
Once released she was the marten we could most regularly radio track and get on remote camera. If the team were having a bad night and all the martens had seemingly disappeared we would go to Miss Piggy’s territory as she was so reliable she would always be there to raise morale.
We didn’t expect her to breed that first spring after she was released as she was a very young animal and we suspected she wasn’t mature enough to have mated the previous summer in Scotland. After her collar was removed we monitored her via cameras sporadically as we kept a close track of the other females who were about to give birth.
Throughout the summer, during the mating season, she was caught on camera with PM17, the big male that overlapped her territory, several times. This made us hope that she had mated and would give birth to some little piggies the following spring. In May 2017, we littered her territory with cameras and hair tubes and checked all the den boxes eager to find out if she had given birth.
Unfortunately, all our efforts were in vain as she didn’t seem to settle into one maternity den site and we never had any confirmation of kits. It could be that she never actually mated, or that potentially the second tranche of releases disrupted the territories briefly or even that she did give birth to a litter but that they did not survive. Pine martens have a very high mortality as kits, with on average 50% not surviving to adulthood.
That summer, we again captured her on camera with PM17, but in May this year we were again disappointed when we checked denboxes there were no kits. The only intriguing evidence was a den box that was piled high with scats.
We monitored her cameras sporadically throughout the summer, but were convinced she hadn’t bred again until last month when we had to move a camera due to active forestry work!
We set it up in a new spot up the river from her normal territory where we had spotted some scats on the footpath. We baited the site and within a week had Miss Piggy turn up on camera. She’d do anything for some free peanuts!
We continued to check the camera throughout the month until one day we had a pine marten turn up who looked smaller, clumsier and generally different to Miss Piggy. What followed was then clip after clip of two pine martens together on camera, which is very unusual for this solitary species.
Our immediate thought was that these two were littermates from this year and so we deployed a jiggler, which is a tea strainer filled with peanut butter on a flexible wire that causes the martens to ‘meerkat’ up toward it, giving us a perfect photo of their unique bibs. This showed that indeed these two martens were new unknown martens and when they turned up on camera with Miss Piggy later in the month we knew they must be her offspring from earlier that year.
Hurray! The team were all thrilled. It is, of course, a celebration whenever we confirm any kits but these two felt especially important. Miss Piggy has been so closely followed by ourselves and Chester Zoo that it was very special to confirm that she has been contributing to the continuation of her species. K(07)1 and K(07)2 seem to share their mother’s love of food and regularly turn up on this camera so should be easy to keep track of over the next few years, until hopefully, they have their own offspring. That is a long way off though, so until then it just makes us happy to think of these three little piggies roaming about the Celtic forests.”
For over 200 years, botanists have known about a strange tree growing at Castell Dinas Bran near Llangollen. The plant first described in Hudson’s Flora Anglica in 1798 was recorded to be growing out of the castle walls and looked a bit like a whitebeam. Botanists were confused about what it might be and gave it several different names!
A descendant of that tree was removed from the castle in the 1990s to prevent damage to the historic castle walls. The rescued tree was planted in a private garden and almost forgotten until 2016 when we became involved. We undertook a rescue project to remove the tree from the garden and brought it back to Chester Zoo where the idea for a conservation project grew.
Endemic to the limestone crags of the Eglywyseg escarpment in Denbighshire, the Llangollen whitebeam is an extremely rare tree which before our project was carried out had an estimated total population of 250 individuals. The last survey for the species had been done in the 1980s and our experts decided it was about time to conduct a resurvey to better understand the conservation status of this special tree and assess if any action was needed to ensure the survival of the rare species.
Sarah Bird, Biodiversity Officer – UK and Europe explains:
“Having a rare endemic tree growing so close to the zoo is really exciting. With only around 250 Llangollen whitebeam trees existing anywhere in the world, this is one of the rarest species Chester Zoo works with. Botanists Tim Rich and Libby Houston, who are whitebeam experts, came to record all the trees on the crags. The Llangollen whitebeam is very similar to some other British whitebeams so we had to get the best people to do the survey.”
The full survey took place in 2017 and the team actually found 300 trees, showing that the population appears to be stable despite some threats from the invasive and non-native Cotoneaster species. Our work has resulted in an update of the species’ IUCN Red List status and measures have been taken to tackle the Cotoneaster.
In parallel with the field work, the Horticulture and Botany team at the zoo have been busy propagating Llangollen whitebeams. We have used seeds from the Millenium Seed bank at Kew and some collected from the crags, and we are thrilled to have 50 young trees in cultivation at the zoo!
Richard Hewitt, Team Manager Nursery adds:
“It is great that the nursery team are using their expertise in propagation and growing on of locally threatened native trees here at Chester Zoo. Our aim is to grow on 100 trees of Llangollen whitebeam. When they are large enough, some will be planted near Castell Dinas Bran and the rest will go into public gardens in the region where we can tell people about this incredibly rare tree.”
The project is now focussing on raising awareness of this rare species in the local area. A few of the young trees will be returned to a safe spot near castle Dinas Bran. We will also be providing specimens for local public gardens accompanied with signs explaining the importance and curious history of the tree.
The limestone cliffs where this tree grows are really amazing. You can see them and meet botanist Tim Rich in the short film here.