Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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News Article | June 29, 2015

For almost two years, Alex the giant armadillo has been the most famous of his little-known and cryptic species. Born in June of 2013, photos and videos of Alex appeared across the global media, including the BBC, National Geographic and Mongabay. From Alex and his mother, Isabelle, researchers learned that giant armadillos are far more parental and familial than long believed. “I was truly very sad,” said Arnaud Desbiez, the head of the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, the first long-term study ever of these mysterious animals. “[Alex] was mortally wounded by a predator most likely a puma and died inside one of his mother’s old burrows. “ Desbiez and his team became worried when photos from a camera trap outside the burrow showed that Alex had not left it for several days. Ominously, one of the photos caught a vulture peering into the burrow. “My heart sank as I saw that picture,” said Desbiez. “I went to smell the entrance of the burrow. I was devastated. I smelled a faint smell of rot instead of the sweet, strong acrid smell of a giant armadillo. I could not believe this was happening. I was in total shock.” The next day the team dug out the burrow. Inside they found Alex’s body. From a necropsy, the team believes that Alex was attacked by a puma. “He managed to escape the predator, but suffered a deep wound between the shoulder blades. Too weak he sought refuge in an old burrow and did not have the strength to even dig,” said Desbiez. “He died inside the burrow after agonising for two days.” For most of history, giant armadillos (Priodontes maximus) have been almost more myth than reality. The only member of the genus Priodontes, the world’s largest armadillos are massive and undeniably impressive. They can weigh more than 30 kilograms, grow longer than 1.5 meters and sport six-inch claws that make a velociraptor’s look diminutive. But as one of the most cryptic mammals in South America, scientists knew next to nothing about them. Desbiez’s project – for which he recently won a prestigious Whitley Awards presented by David Attenborough – has changed all of that. It’s safe to say that scientists have learned more about giant armadillos from Alex and Isabelle than any other individuals before. Their relationship demolished previous ideas of giant armadillo behaviour. Researchers thought young giant armadillos might spend six months with their mother. But Alex lived in burrows with his mother for more than a year, and even at the time of his death remained close to her. “Alex was still living in his mother’s territory and although for the past five months he was digging his own burrows he showed no signs of getting ready to disperse,” said Desbiez. In addition, at almost two Alex was not yet sexually mature. “Many questions still remain,” said Desibiez, who is also the Conservation Project Manager for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. “How long would he have stayed with his mother? When was his mother going to have her next baby? When was Alex going to reach sexual maturity?” All these questions take on massive importance because they are key to determining how quickly giant armadillos reproduce and, subsequently, how endangered they might be. Currently, the IUCN Red List considers giant armadillos as Vulnerable, which is partially based on the idea that giant armadillo generations last seven years. But Alex’s death reiterates just how fragile giant armadillo lives can be, despite their heavily-armoured bodies. Before Alex, Isabelle had another baby – also documented by the team – but this infant was quickly killed by a male giant armadillo (later named Hannibal) looking to mate. “This is the second birth we have followed. Both ended tragically,” said Desbiez who added that through these mortalities “we realise once again how hard it is for these rare ancient creatures to survive.” Although it survives in many environments across South America – the Pantanal, the Amazon and the Cerrado – giant armadillos are naturally rare. They also face a rising tide of threats. People kill giant armadillos for food, for their claws and, at least in the Pantanal, because the species is believed to bring bad luck. Giant armadillos are also increasingly run over by cars on expanding road networks. And, of course, the species suffers from the widespread habitat loss and deforestation that imperils many other animals worldwide. Finally, according to Desbiez, the giant armadillo is imperilled by ignorance. “The general public does not know this species exists or when shown a picture believe it is already extinct,” he said. “This should be considered a threat as the species [could] go extinct without anybody caring.” Given how cryptic and elusive the species is there are currently no real estimates of how many giant armadillos remain on the planet. Still, scientists believe the population has probably fallen by at least 30% in the last 25 years – and continues to decline. Desbiez said people could help the species by spreading the word about giant armadillos and even visiting the project’s research site in the Pantanal. The project doesn’t just focus on giant armadillos, but also the southern naked-tailed armadillo, both the six-banded and nine-banded armadillo, the southern tamandua and the other giant in the Xenartha Order – made up of armadillos, sloths and anteaters – the giant anteater. In its sixth year, the project has been largely funded by zoos across the world. Desbiez says the team’s wealth of data once again proves the importance of supporting long-term research on species. “Why shouldn’t we get attached to our subjects?” Desbiez said when asked about his personal attachment to Alex. For a long time, biologists frowned on personal attachments to their subjects – and some still do. But then came Jane Goodall. The iconic primatologist shocked the scientific world not only with her findings, but by giving chimps names instead of numbers and treating them as individuals with distinct personalities. “I feel no shame in saying I felt devastated to discover Alex died. Very sad indeed,” said Desbiez. “It is these strong emotions and connection to our study animals that give us the drive and strength to work so hard on behalf of their conservation.” Embracing such personal attachments has become far more common among conservationists. For one thing, it is arguably more honest for researchers to admit personal attachments to their subjects rather than pretend such feelings don’t exist – when obviously they do. “[Field conservationists] work in difficult remote conditions, long hours, isolation, insect bites, intense heat, we have to overcome so many challenges. It is the emotional connection to the species, and yes sometimes individuals, that make all these sacrifices worth it on a day to day basis while in the field,” noted Desbeiz. Desbiez and his team weren’t alone in feeling a bond with little Alex. Many supporters of the project became attached to him through the team’s routine updates from the field. “I am in tears,” wrote Karin Schwartz, a conservation biologist with George Mason University who has visited the project. “I have followed Alex’s story since his birth, enjoying those first pictures with such excitement and reading...with anticipation of the discoveries that [were] made from observing his development...Yet through these stories, we’re all the richer.” Danni Parks, Award Manager for Whitley Funds, called Alex a “ a great ambassador for the species,” noting that while this is a “small consolation” for the loss of Alex it is also “far reaching.” Although Alex’s death is a tough setback for the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, Desbiez said the work to illuminate the private lives of these little-known animals will continue. “There are still so many questions we need to understand.” With the grant from the Whitley Awards, the project is now expanding from the Pantanal into Brazil’s Cerrado. A vast tropical savannah, the Cerrado is one of the most threatened ecosystems in South America due to industrialised agriculture. Specifically, the team will be focusing their efforts in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. “Thanks to our communication efforts [giant armadillos] have been selected by the state as one of the mammal indicator species for the creation of protected areas,” said Desbiez. “A species few knew of five years ago will now be championing habitat conservation.” The fact that giant armadillo presence could mean the establishment of new parks in Brazil proves the success not only of the project’s research, but also of their relentless educational and community outreach. New parks to safeguard giant armadillos would also be a fitting testament to the power of one little armadillo that captured the imagination of people in Brazil and beyond. A celebration of Alex. Although his life was brief, his impact will not be. Hopefully.

Leonardi R.,University of Stirling | Buchanan-Smith H.M.,University of Stirling | Dufour V.,University of St. Andrews | MacDonald C.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Whiten A.,University of St. Andrews
American Journal of Primatology | Year: 2010

There are potential advantages of housing primates in mixed species exhibits for both the visiting public and the primates themselves. If the primates naturally associate in the wild, it may be more educational and enjoyable for the public to view. Increases in social complexity and stimulation may be enriching for the primates. However, mixed species exhibits might also create welfare problems such as stress from interspecific aggression. We present data on the behavior of single and mixed species groups of capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) and squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) housed at the Living Links to Human Evolution Research Centre in the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo. These species associate in the wild, gaining foraging benefits and decreased predation. But Cebus are also predators themselves with potential risks for the smaller Saimiri. To study their living together we took scan samples at Z≥15 min intervals on single (n5 109) and mixed species groups (n5152), and all occurrences of intraspecific aggression and interspecific interactions were recorded. We found no evidence of chronic stress and Saimiri actively chose to associate with Cebus. On 79% of scans, the two species simultaneously occupied the same part of their enclosure. No vertical displacement was observed. Interspecific interactions were common (>2.5/hr), and equally divided among mildly aggressive, neutral, and affiliative interactions such as play. Only one aggressive interaction involved physical contact and was non-injurious. Aggressive interactions were mostly (65%) displacements and vocal exchanges, initiated almost equally by Cebus and Saimiri. Modifications to the enclosure were successful in reducing these mildly aggressive interactions with affiliative interactions increasing in frequency and diversity. Our data suggest that in carefully designed, large enclosures, naturally associating monkeys are able to live harmoniously and are enriched by each other. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

News Article | November 24, 2016

Large populations of wild beavers living in the southern and western Highlands of Scotland are to be allowed to expand naturally after ministers granted them protected status. For the first time since it was hunted to extinction about 300 years ago, the beaver will be officially designated as a native British species,the Scottish environment secretary announced on Thursday. Rosesanna Cunningham said this was the first formal reintroduction of a once native mammal in the UK, a significant milestone in the slow process of rewilding parts of the British isles. Until now, official reintroductions have focused largely on birds of prey, though wild boar have colonised forests in southern England after escaping from farms and parks. The beavers were reintroduced to Scotland from Norway. Conservationists said they were delighted. The Scottish Wildlife Trust said beavers created new wetlands, which supported otters, water voles and dragonflies, and helped to regulate flooding and reinvigorate woodland. Jonathan Hughes, the SWT’s chief executive, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species.” Cunningham’s announcement was seen by zoologists and conservationists as inevitable: dozens of European beavers have been illegally and stealthily released in the Highlands or have escaped from private collections over the past decade. Previously captive beavers have also tried to colonise parts of southern England. An expensive and long-term pilot reintroduction project in Knapdale, Argyll, where three beaver families were released in 2009 under a government licence, was usurped by the rapid spread of illegally released beavers in Tayside and Perthshire. Up to 250 beavers are estimated to be living in rivers and lochs over several hundred square miles in the catchments of the rivers Tay and Earn, reaching as far north as Kinloch Rannoch and eastwards to Forfar, north of Dundee. Dozens have been shot by landowners and farmers, who are angry about consequent flooding and tree loss. One study found that 21 had been shot around Tayside since 2010, including two which were pregnant and two feeding young. Conservationists have urged ministers to have a summer closed season for shooting amid suspicions that farmers were culling as many as possible before the animals were protected legally. Roisin Campbell-Palmer, conservation projects manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which has funded and helped run the Knapdale project, said there was a depressing tendency to kill beavers in the area. The RZSS had had to buy a freezer for beaver carcasses, she said. Cunningham’s officials and the conservation agencies involved in beaver reintroduction had since brokered a deal over the terms of the reintroduction from the National Farmers Union of Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates, which represents Highland landowners. While beavers would have an official designation under the EU habitats directive, land users would be able to actively manage them by cutting water channels through dams or protecting valuable trees. Culling in specific circumstances would be licensed by Scottish Natural Heritage if no other solution could be found, the government said. Cunningham said there immediate action would be taken if any more beavers were released illegally. “Today’s announcement represents a major milestone in our work to protect and enhance Scotland’s world renowned biodiversity,” she said. “But I want to be absolutely clear that while the species will be permitted to extend its range naturally, further unauthorised releases of beavers will be a criminal act. Swift action will be taken in such circumstances to prevent a repeat of the experience on Tayside.” The RZSS chief executive, Barbara Smith, said Cunningham would oversee a comprehensive management plan. Officials were preparing a formal survey of Scotland’s beaver population to be carried out next summer. Smith said further controlled releases should be considered in other parts of Scotland, despite their unofficial dispersion in the Tay area. “We also feel strongly that further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape.”

Desbiez A.L.J.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Bernardo C.S.S.,State University of Southwest Bahia
Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia | Year: 2011

The Brazilian Pantanal is one of the world's largest wetland and is located in the center of the South American Continent. Using line transects the population density of Bare-faced Curassow, Crax fasciolata was estimated in three landscapes (Forest, Cerrado and Floodplain) in the central region of the Brazilian Pantanal. This study provides a rare opportunity to obtain densities for this bird in a landscape where anthropogenic impacts such as habitat destruction and hunting are low. The population density of Bare-faced Curassows was highest in the forest landscape (4.66 individuals/km 2) and lowest in the floodplain landscape (0.43 individuals/km 2). Forested habitats are key habitats for the Bare-faced Curassows. The birds were mostly encountered alone (51%, n = 96) or in male/female pairs (39%, n = 74) and were rarely observed in larger groups (10%, n = 20). However, on four occasions what appeared to be classical lekking behaviour was observed. We reviewed studies on cracids population densities but we found no studies with Crax fasciolata in any biome. Results from this study predict that current intensifications and changes in land use practices in the Pantanal will be detrimental to Bare-faced Curassows.

News Article | February 18, 2017

The temperature is below zero and a bitter wind is tugging at our clothes. In the distance, the Grampian hills are catching the early sunlight but it’s dark in the shadows of the wood. Curious eyes are trained on us from beneath the trees – a pack of grey wolves are just metres away. It’s rare to see these beautiful creatures at such close quarters: wolves are naturally wary. The privilege of the moment is lost on six-year-old Nelly. Her toes are aching with cold. We’ve come to Scotland to seek out some of her favourite polar animals, creatures she’s so far enjoyed only in books and wildlife shows on TV – but wolves are not on her list. With a polar explorer as a father, I feel drawn to all things Arctic. This area of the Highlands has a particular resonance, as it was where my dad spent his final years. It reminded him of north-west Greenland, where we had spent happy years living with a remote Inuit community. Our visit is an opportunity for me to show Nelly this special place and introduce her to the kind of animals I grew up with. I’m not normally one for zoos, but the Highland Wildlife Park is unique. It’s run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which also operates the zoo in Edinburgh, and its focus is on threatened species usually found in northerly locations. In winter, this can feel like an Arctic landscape. The Cairngorms national park has some of Britain’s harshest weather and the heaviest snowfall in Scotland, creating snowfields that stretch to the horizon. Lochs, lochans and waterfalls can be frozen solid. Blizzards are common and temperatures frequently dip below -10C. Hurricane-force winds can blast through the glens, making them feel as wintry as the summits. In the higher altitudes, blizzards, fog and snow can produce white-out conditions, where ground and sky merge in a swirling, disorientating, mass. The plants and animals that live here have adapted to this microclimate. Thankfully on our visit, the sky is clear. “Just leave your car by the polar bear and get your boots on,” one of the keepers calls as we drive up. The polar bear in question is a huge sculpture in the main car park. We’re the first to arrive, and the place seems deserted. Morag – “just call me Mo” – is the keeper of hoofstock and guide on our Land Rover tour. First up is a small herd of musk ox. “Hello my beauties,” Mo soothes as we approach. Shaggy and bright-eyed, the prehistoric-looking beasties step forward, their warm breath billowing in the cold. We make our way slowly through a herd of European bison. They are taller and leaner than their American cousins, though still the heaviest animal in Europe. “They are gentle creatures,” Mo says, “but they don’t know their own strength.” A herd of red deer sweep down the hill towards us. Cattle grids separate the enclosures so vulnerable species are not bothered by more feisty neighbours, such as the territorial vicuna, or the towering European elk. An elk calf rubs up against the truck and Mo looks him over. Every morning, she tells us, she and the other keepers check on each of the animals, gauging their general wellbeing. Over the next few hours, we wander along the walkways, encountering Turkmenian markhor (wild goats with corkscrew horns), snowy owls, Arctic foxes, yak, wolverines, forest reindeer, northern lynx and two astonishingly beautiful snow leopards. We watch as a wild Bactrian camel is given medicine for her arthritis, and meet Monty the Amur tiger, who follows my daughter’s every move. But the highlight is still to come. Ahead of us are two male polar bears, watching as a group gathers by their large enclosure. It’s feeding time. Although I’m not comfortable with wild animals in captivity, I am reassured by the respect the keepers have for the animals. They seem genuinely concerned for their welfare. Una, the head keeper, calls cheerily to the bears: “Arktos ... Walker ... come and say hello ...” My heart pounds as the bears stroll casually our way. I’m thankful for the steel mesh between us. I’ve travelled many times to the Arctic and have been privileged to see polar bears in their natural habitat, but you’d never get this close in the wild. These “boys”, as Una calls them, are immense. The size of their paws alone is astonishing. “I work with them every day, so I tend to forget how big they are,” she says. Hunks of fresh meat have been put out, along with fruit and vegetables. This is just one of many meals the bears will have today – they have prodigious appetites – and favourite treats: “When Arktos arrived, we had to promise his previous keeper to give Arktos an apple a day,” Una smiles. Born in captivity, each bear has been given access to a wide variety of food. Lacking fresh seal meat, the bear’s favourite treat appears to be their daily dose of cod liver oil. Highland Wildlife Park is now home to some 30 species, native Scottish plus rare animals from other mountain and tundra regions. There was initial concerned that the park would be filled with exotic animals purely to attract more visitors, but the RZSS says the new animals are for the most part severely endangered due to habitat loss, invasive species and hunting. Their presence here will, it says, help safeguard the future of their species, as well as demonstrating the Highlands’ place in the global ecosystem. Scotland was once home to brown bear, wild boar, lynx and wolves. Giant elk roamed here too. They are lost to another time, but there’s hope for others. The wildlife park participates in breeding programmes and is at the forefront of new rewilding projects. Eurasian beavers, extinct in Scotland for around 400 years, have recently been successfully reintroduced. Of course, a Scottish “safari” needn’t be confined to a wildlife park. The Cairngorms are a stronghold for rare species, including golden eagles, red deer, osprey, pine martens and the Scottish wildcat – the UK’s only remaining native cat. But you’d be lucky to see them in the wild. By the time we leave, the weather is closing in. We’re staying on the Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore – the location, we discover, of the annual Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain sled dog rally. Campervans pull over in laybys and happy visitors line the trails to enjoy the races. Excited yelps and barking fills the air as dog mushers from across the UK, along with their 1,000 huskies, gather in the forest. As we drive south, sleet turns to snow. The hills of the Drumochter Pass are drained of colour. Walk far enough from the A9 here and you’ll find a place more reminiscent of the polar regions than anywhere in the British Isles. “Are there polar bears out there, Mum?” Nelly asks from the back seat. The trip was provided by RZSS Highland Wildlife Park and Visit Scotland. Entry to the park costs £15.40 adult, £11.55 child. Guided Land Rover tours are free (nine people at a time) and take around 40 minutes. New “keeper for a day” and photography experiences start at £150pp, for over-18s only. The nearest station is Kingussie, five miles away. Two-person lodges at Hilton Grand Vacations in Coylumbridge costs from £200 for three days ( • Kari Herbert is co-author of Explorer’s Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure (Thames & Hudson, £29.95). To buy a copy for £25.46 including UK p&p go to

Desbiez A.L.J.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Santos S.A.,Embrapa Pantanal | Alvarez J.M.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Tomas W.M.,Embrapa Pantanal
Mammalian Biology | Year: 2011

The impact of livestock grazing on native wildlife remains a topic for considerable debate. In the Brazilian Pantanal extensive cattle ranching has been practised since the mid-18th century and cattle live alongside a diverse group of medium to large sized terrestrial mammalian herbivores. This study examined the use, similarity and selection of forage resources among cattle (Bos indicus), pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus) and capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) in a paddock in the central region of the Brazilian Pantanal. Plants consumed were identified through micro-histological analysis of faecal samples collected from three species over several seasons, and quadrats (0.5. m. × 0.5. m) were allocated to patches within each of the main landscapes to measure availability of resources. Overall, cattle were classified as grazers, capybara as mixed feeders, pampas deer as browsers. 126 plants were identified in faecal samples of the three species. Similarity indices were highest between domestic cattle and the capybara and lowest between these two species and the deer. Diets were more similar between the species during the wet season (period of resource abundance) than during the dry season (period of resource scarcity). Overall animals selected different forage species H. amplexicaulis and L. hexandra were the only plants selected by all three herbivores. In this study, the presence of cattle does not appear to be as detrimental to wild herbivores as suggested by other examples in the literature. © 2010 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde.

Pereira Y.M.,Zoological Medicine Ltd Cardiology | Pizzi R.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
Ultrasound | Year: 2012

Echocardiography is performed routinely in dogs and cats for the investigation of cardiac disease following well-established, published guidelines for the echocardiographic examination. However, such guidelines do not exist for other animal patients such as small pet mammals, zoo animals, wildlife, birds and reptiles. In these species, a detailed knowledge of the widely differing cardiovascular function and cardiac anatomy is necessary in order to interpret the echocardiographic examination. This varies widely, from the four-chambered mammalian heart, the muscular tricuspid valve and right aorta in birds, the three-chambered heart in reptiles and amphibians with intracardiac shunting of blood, to the two-chambered heart in fish. These are adaptations to very different natural histories and ecological niche requirements such as flying, diving and hibernation, and influence echocardiographic interpretation. Modifications to the echocardiographic technique are necessary in order to obtain a feasible acoustic window in view of differences in visceral and skeletal anatomy, such as the shell in tortoises, air sacs in birds and encircling ribs in snakes. The presence of scales, feathers and fur also contribute to difficulties in obtaining diagnostic quality images.

News Article | December 26, 2016

Fewer than 100 Scottish wildcats are now believed to exist in the wild, say leading experts, with no evidence of any decent sized populations anywhere in the country. While it had been hoped up to 300 may still survive, recent extensive monitoring suggests a lower figure, with individuals or small groups clinging on in isolated and fragmented pockets. Hopes for saving the species, often referred to as the “tiger of the Highlands”, now largely rest on captive breeding and rewilding, said conservationists, who are working with experts who successfully brought the Iberian lynx back from the brink in Spain and Portugal. About 80 captive wildcats in zoos, wildlife parks and private collections around the UK now hold the key to the successful re-establishment of viable populations of the muscular brown and black-striped cat, which resembles a domestic tabby. Genetic testing of all those captive cats was completed in October. Data is now being fed into a new molecular stud book, similar to that used for the giant panda, which will determine which captive cats are related and which are best matched for breeding. Once the stud book is operational, in the coming months, it will help establish a quantity of the highest quality genetically diverse cats. Mixed with genes from cats already in the wild, through artificial insemination or through capture of the most vulnerable cats, it will produce a population of wildcats suitable for release into the wild. It is hoped the first trial releases will happen within five years. The Scottish wildcat is listed as critically endangered. “Next is extinct in the wild and the next is extinct full stop,” said David Barclay, who manages the conservation breeding programme at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, one of several agencies involved in the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) conservation plan, backed by Scottish National Heritage. The main threat has been hybridisation – breeding with feral or domestic cats. Those in the wild tend to have less gene purity than captive cats not exposed to hybridisation. “The population of wildcats estimated in the wild is horribly low,” said Barclay. One estimate, within the last five years, put the number between 100-300. “To be honest, I think it is under 100,” said Barclay. Recent camera trap monitoring of six priority sites, thought to be ideal wildcat habitat, revealed just 19 possible cats out of 200,000 images, said Vicky Burns of the SWA. Captive cats selected for possible release will be transferred to special conservation breeding enclosures. A prototype is currently being tested at the Highland wildlife park within the Cairngorms national park. Placed at least half a mile from the nearest paths, out of view of the public, these large enclosures will gradually allow the cats to be rewilded. Pairing wild cats with captive cats will introduce wild behaviour, and the gradual introduction of live prey will trigger instinct and perfect skills, it is hoped. Human contact will be at an absolute minimum, with the cats spending up to two years in the enclosures, and their kittens better equipped for wilderness survival. The breeding plan is not without its critics, who claim capturing wildcats and introducing them to captive cats will kill off the wild population. Barclay said there was a lack of understanding about the project, and the facts spoke for themselves. No wildcats would be captured in the six priority areas for fear of harming any populations there. Instead, semen would be taken from adult males. In less hospitable areas, where an isolated cat might be spotted on private land, it made sense to remove it. “If there is a wildcat just clinging on, surrounded by feral cats, and at high risk from other issues, we want to bring it into captivity, wrap it up in cotton wool and for it to be beneficial to the captive population and a source for further animals that can be released in future,” he said. “Without the safety net of the captive population, and the semen samples stored, then the future of wildcats is incredibly bleak. I honestly think these insurance policies are the only ones that are going to save the species.” Along with the planned releases, SWA is undertaking a vast programme neutering feral cats in the priority areas. This would continue. There is evidence from Europe that once a sizable wildcat population is established – perhaps 40 or 50 cats – feral cats stay away, thus reducing future risk of hybridisation. Another measure is exploring a change in Scottish legislation. Dogs must now have microchips, so one option would be to extend that to domestic cats. Saving the wildcat will not be cheap. There is Scottish government and lottery funding of £2.5m over five years for initial research and rewilding, but costs will be ongoing. The hope is it will boost local economies and bring in tourist pounds, as well as put Scotland on the global map as a leader in conservation. “As a country we want to be able to say we care about our landscape, we care about our environment, about the diversity. We do want to conserve our native species, we don’t want to have a country a bit like Australia that has been overrun with no native animals,” said Barclay. “When we make the decision we don’t really care about our wildlife, or we don’t want to do that project because it is too controversial or it costs too much money, then we are bordering on giving up on the environment in Scotland,” he said.

Campbell-Palmer R.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Campbell-Palmer R.,Telemark University College | Rosell F.,Telemark University College
Mammal Review | Year: 2010

Chemical communication in mammals includes an array of specific behaviours that are often ignored in terms of their potential relevance to conservation. Often used during territorial or social interactions between animals, chemical communication can also be used as a tool in reintroduction programmes. Reintroductions still exhibit high failure rates and methods to improve success should be investigated. The Eurasian beaver Castor fiber has been widely reintroduced across Europe after its near extinction in the 19th century. Using olfactory studies in the beaver, we aim to demonstrate how scent transfers a range of information about the sender which can be used to monitor social and territorial behaviour along with general well-being. Scent manipulation can be used to reduce human-beaver conflicts, and aid reintroduction success through reducing stress and territorial conflicts, and by influencing dispersal and settlement. Two species of beavers, the Eurasian beaver and the North American beaver Castor canadensis, occupy freshwater habitats throughout North America and in parts of South America, most of Europe and parts of Asia. Most of the reviewed literature concerns the wild Eurasian beaver, its chemical communication and conservation; however, captive studies and those addressing North American beavers are also included. Chemical communication is advanced and has been well documented in this highly territorial species. However, few studies directly link olfaction with conservation practices. Olfactory studies in beavers can provide non-invasive methods to monitor translocated animals and indicators of health. We conclude that chemical analysis, olfactory studies and behavioural manipulations involving semiochemicals have important impacts on conservation and can generate practical solutions to conservation problems including aiding animal capture, captive stress reduction, breeding pair formation and release site fidelity. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Mammal Society.

Muir A.P.,University of Glasgow | Muir A.P.,Institut Universitaire de France | Biek R.,University of Glasgow | Thomas R.,Royal Zoological Society of Scotland | Mable B.K.,University of Glasgow
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2014

Both environmental and genetic influences can result in phenotypic variation. Quantifying the relative contributions of local adaptation and phenotypic plasticity to phenotypes is key to understanding the effect of environmental variation on populations. Identifying the selective pressures that drive divergence is an important, but often lacking, next step. High gene flow between high- and low-altitude common frog (Rana temporaria) breeding sites has previously been demonstrated in Scotland. The aim of this study was to assess whether local adaptation occurs in the face of high gene flow and to identify potential environmental selection pressures that drive adaptation. Phenotypic variation in larval traits was quantified in R. temporaria from paired high- and low-altitude sites using three common temperature treatments. Local adaptation was assessed using QST-FST analyses, and quantitative phenotypic divergence was related to environmental parameters using Mantel tests. Although evidence of local adaptation was found for all traits measured, only variation in larval period and growth rate was consistent with adaptation to altitude. Moreover, this was only evident in the three mountains with the highest high-altitude sites. This variation was correlated with mean summer and winter temperatures, suggesting that temperature parameters are potentially strong selective pressures maintaining local adaptation, despite high gene flow. © 2014 The Authors. Molecular Ecology Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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