20 May 2018

Rhiannon Bolton, student from the University of Liverpool, tells us more about her work at Chester Zoo below:

“The only thing I thought I was ever going to do was work in animal wellbeing and conservation.  I completed a Masters degree in conservation related veterinary science and endocrinology (the study of hormones) and I was then lucky enough to become a Chester Zoo Conservation Scholar.  My PhD combines all my favourite things which are animal wellbeing, conservation and endocrinology; and will hopefully enable me to make a difference!

“My main focus is on cooperatively breeding mammals, a breeding system whereby other individuals in addition to the parents help to raise the offspring.  Often, only one alpha female and one alpha male will reproduce but other family members are expected and needed to help with raising the next generation.  This phenomenon only occurs in about 3% of mammal species, making them absolutely fascinating.  Unfortunately, many of these incredible mammal species are threatened with extinction and some are so rare that conservation breeding is now a really important safety net to ensure their survival in the long run.

No two painted dogs have the same coat pattern

“The African painted dog is one of these species and I have the chance to study it for my research.  Their Latin name Lycon pictus means ‘painted wolf’ – highlighting their beautiful coat patterns.  They may look a lot like the domestic dogs we have at home but three million years of evolution in a slightly different direction have resulted in them only having four toes on their front feet instead of the normal five found on dogs.  Sadly painted dogs are listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and they are known to be one of the world’s most threatened carnivores.  Much of their continuous decline is due to human activity and there are now less than 1,500 mature painted dogs left in the wild.  We, therefore, have a responsibility to do something about it!

“In addition to the conservation work Chester Zoo contributes to in the Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania, a stable global ex situ population of painted dogs is needed to prevent the species’ extinction.  In their natural habitat painted dogs live in large packs of around 20 adults and have a large home range.  They work together to hunt for prey and the pack assist the breeding pair to rear pups.  Painted dogs compete for dominance status to breed and the young leave their natal packs around two years of age.  Due to their natural family dynamics and large home range, painted dogs can be challenging to breed in ex situ conditions and aggression can occur when the pack is establishing who will be the breeding pair.  If we can determine which factors cause heightened aggression in ex situ populations, we may be able to identify practical solutions to improve breeding success and minimise aggression.

“A lot of my time has been spent surrounded by dog poo in the lab”

“I am approaching this challenge from three different angles: at the University of Liverpool I work with wild house mice, another mammal that shares parental responsibilities.  The mice breed in semi-naturalistic conditions and I can see if maternal influences or the post-natal environment can influence mouse behaviour when they grow into adults.  Although these controlled conditions are impossible to replicate in endangered species management, the results should provide an understanding of which factors are important in influencing behaviour allowing these to be focused on in ex situ populations.  In addition to behavioural studies, I also look at the physiology behind the varying behaviours using non-invasive samples such as urine and faeces.

Running hormonal assays on mouse wee

“In parallel, I have been following the painted dog pack here at Chester Zoo.  I have conducted behavioural observations from when the pack first arrived at the zoo and were introduced to each other to over two breeding seasons with all the highs and lows of sibling rivalry.  At the same time, faecal samples were collected for hormonal analysis.  By combining hormonal and behavioural data our aim is to identify a specific trigger that can be used to predict outbreaks of future aggression.

“As part of my PhD, I am also working with the painted dog studbook keeper and European Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) for canines to widen my study to the European zoo population of painted dogs.  We have designed a questionnaire to gather more information about behaviour and breeding success which will not only increase the sample size of my study but also enable us to look further into which factors promote cooperation and good breeding success within this species.

“The great thing about working with the TAG means that our research findings can have an impact not just on the dogs studied here but could influence the reproductive success of breeding packs across Europe!  We have already had a number of positive responses from various zoos who work with the species which highlights the importance of this work.

We have a responsibility to conserve this beautiful species

“As well as hoping to make a difference to animal welfare and improve conservation breeding, this research project allows me to work with many incredible experts.  Half of the time I work with the amazingly knowledgeable Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group at the University of Liverpool, and the other half, I’m working with Chester Zoo’s Applied Science team.  I’ve also had the opportunity to work with keeping staff, vets and members of the wider zoo community across Europe.  All are extremely professional and dedicated to their work in improving the wellbeing of animals at the zoo and to the greater goal of conservation.

“In the future, I hope the knowledge I have obtained during this research can be used as an insight to improve fertility and wellbeing of other endangered animals.”

Rhiannon Bolton is a NERC funded PhD student on the Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment Doctoral Training Programme from the University of Liverpool. Rhiannon is supervised by Professor Paula Stockley, Professor Jane Hurst, Dr Lisa Holmes and Dr Sue Walker.

21 February 2018

Chester Zoo first started working with the endangered Ecuador Amazon parrot back in the 1980s when a collection of individuals were confiscated at customs and distributed to a number of zoos across Europe to be cared for. Since then, they have become part of an Endangered Breeding Programme, which is managed by Chester Zoo.

The Chester Zoo team have been working in Ecuador to assess the current population of the parrots, as well as their habitat. They’ve also been hard at work installing nest boxes and working with the local community to increase their understanding of the parrots’ behaviour.

Our project partners, Fundación Pro-Bosque, are based in the dry forests of the Cerro Blanco, running assessments and also protecting the forest from fires, hunters and other threats to the ecosystem. We’re also working with local independent biologists with invaluable knowledge of the area and the animals.

Watch the video below to find out all about our conservation work in Ecuador, why the Ecuador Amazon parrot is important, and how you can get involved to save them.

29 December 2017

We work in 80 countries across the globe to help some of the world’s most endangered animals. Working closely with many organisations we provide both funding and expertise to help the fate of species which are on the edge of extinction.

The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is one of the organisations we work with, helping conserve some of the endangered endemic plant and animal species of the Mascarene islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues. These islands are located 700 km east of Madagascar. Back in the 16th century, the first settlers arrived – soon after the last dodo was killed by sailors. Many other species succumbed to the same fate and with introduction of alien species, many native species’ habitats disappeared. Today, the islands have lost most of their native vegetation and the growing human population has put increased pressure on remaining forest fragments. However, over the years some species numbers have increased including the once nearly extinct Rodrigues fruit bat.

Rodrigues fruit bat

Chester Zoo’s Twilight Team Manager and global species co-ordinator for the Rodrigues fruit bat, David White, travelled to the islands. Here he tells us more about his trip:

“The Rodrigues fruit bat was once described as ‘the rarest bat in the world’. In the 1970s the species almost went extinct as numbers dropped to just 70 bats. However ongoing conservation work and habitat protection in Mauritius – which we have supported for a number of years – together with research, education and an effective breeding programme in zoos has since seen the population steadily increase. Yet as the bats are only found in a single location on Rodrigues they are classed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature so monitoring their numbers is imperative. Therefore on my recent visit I worked with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to help conduct the  quarterly bat counts across the island.

Dave White with Alfred at MWF

David with Alfred, from MWF

“One of the most breath-taking moments for me was standing at the top of the valley to Cascade Pigeon, one of the largest habitats for the bat on the island, where some 40 years before, the great conservationist Gerald Durrell had witnessed first-hand the plight of the Rodrigues fruit bat.  He decided to create an insurance population, the first for this species, in the 1970s to ensure its survival. The founder animals came from the very valley that I saw before me and I now work with their ancestors in Chester.

“I love the Rodrigues fruit bat, they are also known as the Rodrigues flying fox because their elongated muzzles give them a distinctly fox-like appearance. The first time I experienced a wild Rodrigues fruit bat in flight was a little surreal: they looked so majestic and graceful. Roost sites chosen by the bats were in tall trees, situated on steep sided valleys which offered them shelter from the elements. Some of these roosts were very difficult to access due to the steep sided valley and the undulating terrain.

“To get an idea of the wild Rodrigues fruit bat population, evening dispersal counts are carried out simultaneously at each roost across the island. I took part in roost counts in three different locations.  It was so peaceful, perched at the top of the cliff overlooking the valley below, bats flying past as they left the roost sites to feed. It really is vital that we succeed in our attempts to conserve this wonderful species.

Dave White at Mauritian Wildlife Foundation Rodrigues fruit bat

“So how do you conduct a roost count? Well an imaginary line was visualised from the cliff top to a building in the distance. When a bat crossed this line it was counted as leaving the roost; any returning bats were subtracted and the count finished when it was too dark to see any bats. I had the privilege of witnessing some pups, still dependent on their mothers. It still amazes me how the female bats can fly with pups attached to them.

“During my time on Rodrigues Island, I visited the nature reserve Grande Montagne one of the last remaining strands of forest on the island. The reserve has undergone allot of restoration work to help protect the native and unique flora and fauna and the MWF has overseen the planting of over 150,000 native plant species, whilst eradicating invasive ones. The nature reserve also provide crucial habitats for the last three surviving endemic species: the Rodrigues fruit bat, Rodrigues warbler and Rodrigues Fody.

It was a privilege to lend the skills I’ve developed here in Chester to our work in the wild witness first-hand a conservation success story.

David White, Twilight Team Manager

Chester Zoo team counting bats

David conducting a roost count in Mauritius and Rodrigues

“Back in the 70’s it was believed that this species could disappear in the wild altogether but thankfully due to the perseverance of many different organisations and the start of a very successful breeding programme the number of Rodrigues fruit bat has increased dramatically. I hope that with the brilliant work we support with the MWF the numbers continue to increase and the bats will continue to thrive in their native home.”

28 November 2017

Chester Zoo has been supporting the fish ark in Morelia, Mexico since 1996, long before starting work at the zoo in 2014 I had been aware of the work of Omar Dominquez and his team within the field of Goodeid conservation.

Goodeids are a subfamily of fish comprising of 41 species, almost all are endemic to the mountainous volcanic central state of Michoacan, several of the species are already extinct in the wild and many more are threatened by various factors including pollution and introduced species out-competing them for food, space and often predating on the Goodeid offspring.

When I was told that I would be visiting Morelia to see the work first hand, as a ‘Fish geek’ my excitement could hardly be contained! To visit a beautiful country to fish for species I had often read about in books and to represent Chester Zoo at the same time – it was almost a dream come true.  I travelled with my colleague and fellow aquarist Nadia Jogee  (read Nadia’s blog here).

Semi natural pond

Day 1

After arriving in Morelia late in the evening, our first full day was spent acclimatising ourselves to the beautiful city of Morelia.  We enjoyed watching the relaxed Mexican way of life and the way Mexican people use these open public spaces for socialising and relaxing with family and friends.

Day 2

Today we were to visit the University and Aqua lab for the first time, the team at the aqualab consists of several departments and we met and worked alongside many people, including aquatic technicians, parasitologists and limnologists.

Day 3
We travelled back to the aqua lab to meet team leader Omar Dominquez and Rodolfo Perez Rodriguez. Omar had just returned from a field trip to the Gulf of Mexico where he was collecting marine fish from an offshore reef, he was extremely welcoming and gave us an overview of the tequila splitfin (Zoogoneticus tequila) project. He then invited us to accompany him to the university’s botanical department. Here the aqualab have two semi natural ponds which are filled with three species each.

Within the pool containing tequila splitfin several hard working students were busy setting fish traps and were collecting and sorting over 700 individuals of tequila splitfin to take back to the aqualab, undergo a period of quarantine before eventually being translocated back to the Rio Teuchitlan for reintroduction. We were allowed to help with this work at the semi natural ponds.

Zoogoneticus tequila - Semi natural pond

Day 4

We were collected from our hotel at 5am and drove five hours in a North West direction to the town of Teuchitlan and the Rio Teuchitlan, the type locality for the tequila splitfin – incidentally the fish did not get its name from the alcoholic drink produced in this area, it received its name from the nearby ‘Volcán de Tequila’.

The Rio Teuchitlan is the habitat of tequila splitfin and the location of the reintroduction of the same species. It’s a short river around 1.5 miles in length, it’s source is an underground spring located in the park known as ‘El Rincon’. The site has been developed as a water park for local residents to relax and swim. The crystal clear waters are an ideal reintroduction site and the residents of Teuchitlan have a vested interest in protecting this site from pollution.

 

Day 5

Still in Teuchitlan we headed to ‘El Rincon’ for the second part of the project; the University team had arranged to give a presentation to the locals as part of an ongoing project. Almost all of the residents of Teuchitlan now know and recognise the university and understand the work that they’re doing in this area. The local residents are very proud to host this work and many are actively involved in protecting the environment and ensuring that ‘El Rincon’ can be enjoyed by both local bathers and the native wildlife.

Reintroducing the tequila splitfin

The trip was a complete success! We were able to witness first-hand the work that we had read so much about in several reports, however for me the lasting impression is the shear dedication of the Mexican scientists working in the field! They work tirelessly and battle numerous obstacles to protect the goodeid species that are found exclusively in the central Mexican states.

The tequila splitfin reintroduction is nearing the end after almost five years of hard work and dedication, the first fish are now being reintroduced and only time will tell if this project is successful. The planning has been meticulous and the ground work finished, now it is time to start to think of the next project! Many other species of goodeid are critically endangered and using the knowledge gained from this project, future reintroductions will certainly be possible. None of this could be possible without the support of Chester Zoo funds and encouragement, just another reason I am SO proud to work for the zoo.

03 November 2017

A species that used to be found in abundance across North Africa, Southern and Central Europe and the Middle East, the northern bald ibis is now classified as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and has been since 1994. The species is threatened by hunting, habitat loss, pesticide poisoning, powerlines and an increase in construction works around their preferred nesting sites.

Northern bald ibis

Northern bald ibis

The northern bald ibis has undergone a long-term decline and more than 98% of the wild population has been lost, putting the birds on the very brink of extinction. We joined the reintroduction programme ‘Proyecto Eremita’ in 2007 and have been working closely with Jerez Zoo, the Andalusian government and other conservation institutions across Europe to re-establish the species in Europe and help prevent the birds from disappearing from the wild altogether.

Ibis release aviaries

Ibis release aviaries

 

Mike Jordan, Collections Director at Chester Zoo, explains:

“Sadly, the species has been extinct in Europe for more than 300 years and since joining the reintroduction programme in 2007, we’ve made great efforts to breed these birds so that they can eventually go on to be released back into the wild. We hope that by reintroducing birds back into a safe, secure and monitored site in southern Spain they will hopefully go on to successfully breed and give the species a foothold once more in Europe.”

Lauren Hough, Bird Keeper, had the opportunity to travel to Jerez and got to see some of the Chester Zoo birds released from previous years.  She tells us:

“I went out with the Ibis Team there in Spain and did some surveys. We were lucky enough to see two of the birds from Chester Zoo that had been released in the wild last year! Zoos from across Europe take part in the reintroduction effort sending some of their birds to Jerez were they are then released.

Bird keeper, Lauren Hough

Lauren Hough, Chester Zoo bird keeper

Conservation breeding

“It’s a cycle that repeats itself each year. In November Zoo Botánico Jerez will start receiving birds from other zoos that have been bred for the release programme. Once the birds reach Jerez they are put in quarantine for a month and are then placed in release aviaries. They spend some time there to acclimatise to their new environment and around January, depending on the weather, the gates of the aviaries open up and the birds are free to come and go for a while.

“Once the birds have fully fledged, the Spanish team can start monitoring the released individuals to get precious data on their reintroduction. To be able to monitor those birds, experts ring the individuals and microchip them allowing the local team to get a better idea of the distribution of the ibises in the wild.”

“They all have two different rings on, one is a metal ring and the other is a plastic ring with three characters on either letters or numbers and different colours so that conservationists can recognise them.”

Keeper Lauren Hough gently carries a critically endangered nothern bald ibis chick to be weighed at Chester Zoo

Tipped off by a local farmer, the Ibis Team drove Lauren to a field where she had the chance to observe a flock of more than 50 ibises.

Lauren continues:

We just sat there looking at them for a bit. Then Salvador, one of the guys from the Ibis Team, put his black t-shirt and his helmet on and just started whistling slowly making his way to the group. You could tell the previously hand-reared ibises were familiar with him so they just came towards him and that’s how we managed to spot the birds’ rings and identified that two were from Chester!

Lauren Hough, Bird Keeper

Getting close to ibis

The rearing costume composed of a black t-shirt and a beaked helmet is used during the hand-rearing period to avoid imprinting on the ibises but still allowing the researchers to monitor them closely once they are released in the wild. The project has been so successful that the team is now planning on reintroducing the ibises to a secondary area in Spain that has been identified as suitable for them!

Salvador in his ibis costume observing the wild birds

19 October 2017

The mountain bongo, also known as the Eastern bongo, is associated with montane forests in the Kenyan highland and is known to thrive on vegetation at the edge of forests. The species is completely extinct in Uganda, and is now confined to four isolated populations located in patches of forest across Kenya. Avoiding people at all cost, this elusive species tends to end up living in unsuitable habitats in order to stay away from humans.

Tommy Sandri, a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), has been studying the mountain bongo for the past four years as part of his masters and now PhD. Always interested in animals he decided a few years ago to enrol in an MSc in Zoo Conservation Biology mainly because the degree had a strong link with Chester Zoo.  Below he explains more:

The mountain bongo, also known as the Eastern bongo, is associated with montane forests in the Kenyan highland and is known to thrive on vegetation at the edge of forests. The species is completely extinct in Uganda, and is now confined to four isolated populations located in patches of forest across Kenya. Avoiding people at all cost, this elusive species tends to end up living in unsuitable habitats in order to stay away from humans.

Tommy Sandri, a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), has been studying the mountain bongo for the past four years as part of his masters and now PhD. Always interested in animals he decided a few years ago to enrol in an MSc in Zoo Conservation Biology mainly because the degree had a strong link with Chester Zoo.  Below he explains more:

Mountain bongo caught on camera trap

Mountain bongo caught on camera trap

Funded by Chester Zoo, Tommy started studying the habitat selection in bongos but always had the idea of looking at the genetics of the species at the back of his mind. This idea then germinated and turned into a PhD project.

Working in collaboration with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, the research team was able to place camera traps across their study area collecting crucial data on the critically endangered antelope and allowing them to obtain the first estimates of the size of the remainding bongo populations in the wild.

The Bongo Surveillance Program collected data from camera traps for more than a decade by placing their traps at strategic sites where they knew bongos to be present. However, the research in which Tommy was part of was the first to set up randomly-placed camera traps providing a robust and systematic census of the wild populations of bongos.

In addition of conducting new camera trapping activities, Tommy recently went back to Kenya to collect genetic samples from the wild bongo populations. Focusing on an area where he knew the bongos to be relatively abundant, he went looking for their dung.

mountain bongo poo

Mountain bongo poo

“We were lucky enough to find 28 samples! One day we found an area where a herd of bongos had probably spent the morning. We know from camera traps that there should be around 12 to 16 animals there and one morning we just stumbled upon this area and under some shrubs and trees we found 16 dung piles!”

He explains that out of the 28 samples collected probably 20 will turn out to be actual bongo dung as, visually, they can easily be confused. Once the dung is collected, the researchers need to act fast to extract the DNA before it starts degrading and can then store the extracted DNA material to analyse once back in Europe.

The aim of Tommy’s study is to use micro satellites developed by MMU to investigate the genetic diversity among the four wild populations of mountain bongos found in Kenya and to then compare it to the populations kept at European zoos as part of the European Conservation Breeding Programme.

Tommy Sandri is a student from Manchester Metropolitan University and is supervised by Dr Edwin Harris, Dr Bradley Cain, Dr Martin Jones and Chester Zoo’s Deputy Curator of Mammals Dr Nick Davis. His research is funded by both Chester Zoo and Manchester Metropolitan University and is supported by the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

11 September 2017

Together with the Government of Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services and Manchester Metropolitan University, we’ve been working with Heléna to study the Bermuda skink as part of her PhD in Biodiversity Management at The University of Kent.

“I’m looking at the conservation and population status of the critically endangered Bermuda skink. There is estimated to be only 2,500 remaining in the world and their population has been in continual decline since 1965.

“The species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List and faces multiple threats on Bermuda due to several deliberate and accidental introductions of species such as rats, cats, crows, cane toads, chickens, various species of anoles, geckos, kiskadees and yellow crowned night herons.  Coastal developments, invasive plants and natural disasters are other factors impacting the species and causing habitat fragmentation and destruction.

Not much is actually known about their ecology making Heléna’s work crucial to develop a better understanding of this endemic lizard species.

Bermuda skink

Bermuda skink

“Another major factor is litter being improperly discarded and washed up as marine trash in the skinks habitat. Empty bottles act as lethal traps for small insects such as woodlice or cockroaches that are attracted by the sugary fluid left inside, which in turn attracts the skinks. As the skinks have clawed feet they can’t escape and quickly die of heat exhaustion.”

The research Heléna is currently conducting is vital to find out where the skinks remain on the different islands of Bermuda but also to assess how many individuals are left in the wild and what the main threats to the species are. This information is crucial to create a plan of action for the future.

For the past few weeks, Heléna has been carrying out field surveys at four different sub-populations: Castle Island, Nonsuch Island, Southampton Island, and Spittal Pond. Taking a boat and accompanied by a team of researchers, she goes to the field sites and set up large glass jars filled with rotten sardines and cheese to attract the skinks.

Bermuda skink

Helena with one of the Bermuda skinks found on the island

She tells us more:

“I normally use 20 to 80 traps which are checked hourly during a five hour period and take genetic and faecal samples and morphometric measurements for all the individuals we manage to attract. The traps are placed 5 to 20 meters apart as skinks are thought to have a very small home range of around 10 metres. Other information such as the individuals’ stage of life, gender and missing digits or other mutilations are also recorded as they give precious information on the ecology of the species and can indicate high predation in the area.”

Bermuda bait Bermuda

(L) Bermuda bait (R) Beautiful surroundings Heléna works in

So far, Heléna has some interesting preliminary results indicating that skinks have not been entirely isolated on these offshore islands. It seems that some individuals living in rock crevices fall into the sea with bits of vegetation during storms and hurricanes and then drift to the next island increasing the gene flow between these vulnerable sub-populations.

Not only is this project looking at how Bermuda skinks are doing in Bermuda but it is also closely related to the work carried out at Chester Zoo. Heléna explains:

At the moment, the conservation breeding at Chester Zoo aims to improve the husbandry of Bermuda skinks for an eventual conservation breeding programme. However, once I find out where the skinks are absent or declining on the island and why, in the near future we could be reintroducing skinks back to historic sites in the wild therefore both the PhD and breeding programme are complementary elements.

Heléna Turner, Conservation Scholar

03 July 2017

Oliver Hughes, Chester Zoo Conservation Scholar, is fascinated by orchids and has spent five years researching them for his MPhil and PhD. Below he tells us more about his passion for the colourful flowers and the work he’s doing to protect them:

Dracula orchid

Photo credit: Steve Manning

“I’ve always been interested in nature but I particularly got interested in orchids when I started recreating different natural habitats and gardens. I discovered some amazing native plants at some point and they turned out to be orchids which I’d always associated with tropical rainforests!”

“After realising that orchids were actually present in British and European woodlands and meadows, I started growing them and became increasingly curious about different propagation techniques.

“Often colourful and exotic, orchids are well-known around the world and many species are sold as ornamental plants. However, their survival in the wild relies on a very specific interaction with fungi. Unlike most plants, orchids have seeds that need to enter into contact with a fungus to be able to develop and grow.

“The main thing is that orchids have a very specific association with fungi. They can’t actually germinate themselves without them! Orchids can produce a huge amount of seeds but they wholly rely on finding the right fungi in their environment to grow. Chester Zoo has thousands of pleurothallid orchids, so it was interesting to see the zoo’s huge collection. It has been an eye opener for me to work on their conservation!”

Close up of orchids

Photo credit: Steve Manning

“My PhD focused on comparing various methods involving different media and fungi with the aim of increasing our knowledge of these species’ biology and conservation. In Central and South America, local people could make a local business out of propagating orchids in places where orchids are found naturally. So instead of chopping down the cloud forest around them or having plantations, the local communities could use orchids as a valuable resource and make more money out of propagating the plants and encouraging education projects around those emblematic species.”

30 June 2017

With only around 650 individuals believed to remain across Africa, the two new arrivals at Chester Zoo are much welcomed additions; giving global population numbers a boost!

New black rhino calf born at Chester Zoo

The growing price of rhino horn has led to a huge decline in population numbers, which have decreased by up to 97% across Africa in the past 50 years!

The year 2014 was branded ‘the worst poaching year on record’ by leading conservationists after over 1,200 rhinos were hunted in South Africa alone – a 9,000% increase from 2007! The issue is being fuelled by the street value of rhino horn, which is currently changing hands for more per gram than both gold and cocaine, although modern science has already proven it to be completely useless for medicinal purposes as it’s made from the keratin – the same material as human hair and nails.

The in-depth specialist knowledge developed by our keeping and science teams that are running the rhino breeding programme, is being used right now in Africa to boost conservation efforts in the field.

Mike Jordan, Chester Zoo Collections Director, tells us:

“It’s superb to see the new calves taking their first steps; as we consider that each and every rhino calf is so important to the future of the species. We are one of a number of conservation organisations working in Africa – including Save the Rhino International and the International Rhino Foundation – to ensure the long-term survival of both black and white rhinoceros in the wild.

Alongside that, it’s vitally important to have a healthy breeding programme in zoos to maintain a genetically viable insurance population of the species and to develop the husbandry and scientific expertise that can be transferred to the wild. Conservation is critical, which is why these births are so vital.

Mike Jordan, collections director

We’re one of the main organisations fighting for the survival of eastern black rhino and have supported conservation efforts in the field to try and protect the species and we will continue to do all we can through funding and providing expertise, to numerous projects and sanctuaries in Africa.

The Chester Zoo Black Rhino Programme started in 1999, in partnership with Save the Rhino, providing substantial support to Kenya Wildlife Service to enable the translocation of 20 black rhinos to wildlife reserves in the Tsavo region of Kenya. The zoo has also provided support for rhinos in Chyulu Hills National Park and Laikipia District in Kenya and Mkomazi in Tanzania.

Our partners in Mkomazi have also been celebrating a new arrival after spotting a male calf within the reserve. The calf‘s mum, Daisy was also born in Mkomazi back in 2009 after a successful translocation, which means the new male calf is a second generation birth in the wild.

Two years ago the world’s leading experts on rhinos and rhino conservation came together in Europe for the first time when Chester Zoo hosted over 100 zookeepers, researchers, scientists and conservationists from the USA, Australia, Africa and Europe to debate issues surrounding the five species of rhino – black, greater one-horned, white, Sumatran and Javan rhino.

We won’t give up! We will continue to do all we can to stop the eastern black rhino from going extinct!

03 April 2017

In 2016, scientists officially announced Bornean orangutans as ‘Critically Endangered’, making the birth at the zoo extra special. Chester Zoo plays a vital role in helping save wildlife from extinction through conservation breeding programmes; which are becoming more and more important in the survival of threatened species.

Baby orangutan at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo’s curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, said:

“Bornean orangutan numbers are plummeting at a frightening rate. A major threat to the survival of these magnificent creatures is the unsustainable oil palm industry which is having a devastating effect on the forests where they live. They are also the victims of habitat loss and illegal hunting.

“Those who are responsible for their decline have pushed them to the very edge of existence – and if the rate of loss continues, they could very well be extinct in the next few decades.

It’s therefore absolutely vital that we have a sustainable population of Bornean orangutans in zoos and every addition to the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme is so, so important.

– Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals

“It’s also imperative that we continue to tackle the excessive deforestation in Borneo and show people everywhere that they too can make a difference to the long-term survival of orangutans. Simple everyday choices, such as making sure your product purchases from the supermarket contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a massive impact.”

It has been proven that the number of Bornean orangutans will decline by about 80% between 1950 and 2025. To put that into perspective – an 80% decline is like losing four out of five people you know! Over the past 40 years, a total of 17.7million hectares of forest has been destroyed in Borneo, mainly due to make way for oil palm plantations. Half of which used to be prime orangutan habitat.

It’s predicted that a further 15 million hectares of forest will be cleared and converted to plantations by 2025! This isn’t the only threat this incredible species is facing; it’s being hunted for its meat and to stop crops from being raided.

We’ve been working with our partners, HUTAN – Kinabatangan orangutan conservation programme for over 10 years to protect the forests and wildlife of the Kinabatangan region of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Our partnership has grown over the years and despite the challenges that remain in the field, we continue to work hard to help make a difference.

We won’t stand back; now is the time to act for orangutans.