Four-month-old Red Panda kits, Pokhara and Shimla, have begun to venture outside and try out their newfound climbing skills at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park.
Born in July, the brothers first began spending time outside their den under the watchful eye of mum Kitty.
Photo Credits: RZSS/Alyson Houston
The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. The wild population is estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding.
Motion-sensitive cameras hidden in a unique breeding area at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park revealed that two Amur Leopard cubs have emerged from their den.
The park announced July that Amur Leopard Arina had given birth. However, with human presence being kept to a minimum in the Leopard habitat, the number of cubs born was unknown.
Photo Credit: RZSS Highland Wildlife Park
The cubs emerged from a den located deep within undergrowth in a remote section of the park, which is not accessible to visitors. This strategy of keeping human contact to a minimum makes the cubs good candidates for reintroduction to the wild – part of a desperate attempt to save these rare Cats from extinction. Fewer than 70 of these Critically Endangered animals remain in the Russian Far East.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the park, said, “Our Amur Leopard habitat is the only one within the zoo community which has been designed to breed these extremely rare Cats with the aim of producing cubs that are eligible for reintroduction to the wild.” This ensures the cubs will retain their wild instincts and behavior.
“While this would be incredibly complex, it would also be a world first and a huge step forward in the conservation of this critically endangered Cat,” Richardson said.
Freddo, the cubs' father, came from Tallin Zoo in Estonia, while Arina was born at Twycross Zoo. Both Leopards arrived at the park in 2016.
Although progress has been made in recent years, habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans remain threats to the Amur Leopard.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is working with partners, including ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and conservation authorities in Russia. It is hoped that cubs born at Highland Wildlife Park can be released into a region northeast of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, part of the Amur Leopard’s historic wild range.
“One of the key factors in deciding the next steps will be determining the sex of the cubs, which we expect to find out during initial health checks over the next few weeks,” said Richardson.
“If the cubs are the same sex, ideally female, then there is a good possibility both may be candidates for reintroduction, while if we have a brother and sister then only one would be eligible to avoid them breeding together,” Richardson said.
“Although there are no guarantees of success and we are reliant on international partners, reintroducing at least one of our cubs to the wild may be possible in the next two to three years. This would need to be a phased approach, with young Leopards spending some time acclimatizing and sharpening their survival skills in a contained, naturalistic environment within the proposed location of Lazovsky Zapovednik, before being released and monitored,” said Richardson.
The cubs, now three months old, will be named when their sex is known.
A pair of Red Panda cubs was born recently at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. The duo was welcomed in July by mum, Kitty, and dad, Kevyn.
Keepers say it will be a rare opportunity for visitors to catch glimpses of the two fuzzy cubs. The first four months of their lives will be spent, for the most part, safely tucked in their den with mum.
The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. It is arboreal, feeds mainly on bamboo, but also eats eggs, birds, and insects.
The species has been classified as “Endangered” by the IUCN. Its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression.
Born in December, the cub has taken its first steps into the park’s outdoor enclosure, which had previously been closed to the public to allow mum, Victoria, the privacy she needed.
Staff members at the park are advising visitors that the cub may only be visible for small periods of time to begin with. Una Richardson, head keeper, said, “Having spent four months in her maternity den, Victoria quickly took the chance to go outside. Understandably, her cub has been more cautious and is still getting used to new sights, smells and sounds.”
“While the cub will become more confident and start to explore the large enclosure with Victoria, this will take time and they will always have access to their den for peace and quiet. There is no guarantee all of our visitors will see the cub at this early age, but they may be lucky.”
“There is huge interest in the park and seeing a Polar Bear cub will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people, particularly those traveling from around the world.”
Photo Credits: RZSS
Douglas Richardson, the park’s head of living collections, said, “Our pioneering captive Polar Bear management programme closely mirrors what happens in the wild and this birth shows our approach is working. This is vital because a healthy and robust captive population may one day be needed to augment numbers in the wild, such are the threats to the species from climate change and human pressures.”
“The reintroduction of Polar Bears would be an enormous task, but we need to have the option. While our cub will never be in the wild, there is a chance its offspring may be in decades to come.”
Chief Executive Barbara Smith added, “The birth of the first Polar Bear in the UK for a quarter of a century is a huge achievement for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the team at our Highland Wildlife Park. We are hopeful our cub will help to raise awareness of the dangers to Polar Bears in the wild. Collectively, we must do all we can to protect this magnificent species.”
Staff at the park expects to be able to discover the cub’s sex in April or May, when health checks will be possible.
The Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) is a carnivorous bear whose native range lies within the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and surrounding landmasses.
The species is currently classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Risks include: climate change, pollution in the form of toxic contaminants, conflicts with shipping, oil and gas exploration and development, and human-bear interactions including harvesting and possible stresses from recreational watching.
A rare Przewalski’s Horse foal has been born at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. The youngster can now be spotted trotting around the main reserve with the small herd.
The arrival of the foal represents a potentially important contribution to Przewalski’s Horse conservation, with the species currently listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. The species had previously been listed as extinct in the wild, following the last official sighting in 1968, but was reclassified in 2011 following the success of a number of reintroduction projects, including to its native Mongolia.
Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said, “For the Przewalski’s Horse to go from being extinct in the wild to once again roaming the Mongolian Steppe is directly attributable to the efforts of the legitimate zoo community. Had it not been for the managed captive population, there would have been no horses to return to the wild. Although there is still a need to continue to augment the small wild herds, and our latest foal may play a part, the story of the horse’s recovery is a classic example of the important conservation role that good zoos are uniquely equipped to fulfill.”
Photo Credits: Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS)
The Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is the last true wild horse. They are the only living, wild ancestor of the domestic horse that has survived to the present day.
They are named after Nikolai Przewalski, the Russian explorer who first brought specimens back for a formal description in the 1870s. But the first time the species was made known to the West was in the 1763 published accounts of a Scottish doctor, John Bell, who travelled with Tsar Peter the Great.
This wild horse has a stocky body with robust, short legs, a short neck and an erect mane. Typical height of the species is about 12–14 hands (48–56 inches, 122–142 cm), and their length is about 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in). On average, they weigh around 300 kilograms (660 lb).
The hooves of the Przewalski's Horse are longer in the back and have a thick sole horn. This characteristic improves the performance of the hooves.
The ‘purr-fect’ cubs were born on May 26. They spent the first couple of months safely tucked in their den and have now started to wander out to explore their large outdoor enclosure.
The cubs were born to mum, Dimma, and father, Switch. They are the fifth consecutive litter of cubs reared by the Lynx pair. The cubs from previous years have moved on to other zoological collections as part of a coordinated breeding programme.
Vickie Larkin, Carnivore Team Leader at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, shared, “We are incredibly pleased to have had Lynx cubs again this year. The cubs are doing well and are extremely playful. Dimma and Switch arrived at the Park in 2012 and have had a litter of cubs every year since their arrival, which is testament to the team’s husbandry experience as well as their spacious enclosure.”
Photo Credits: RZSS/Alex Riddell
The adorable feline trio can be seen playing and tumbling about their enclosure at the Park. Whilst initially nervous when they first left their den, they have become more confidant and have been adventurously exploring and playing in their enclosure.
For several months, the kittens have been tucked safely in their dens with their mothers, but they have begun venturing outdoors recently. The playfulness that zoo guests observe between the mothers and their babies is actually an important part of developing the kittens’ survival skills.
Also known as the Highland Tiger, this rare native species is facing the threat of extinction due to hybridization with domestic and feral Cats, habitat loss, and accidental persecution. The species is Critically Endangered in Scotland and is the only wild Cat native to Scotland.
The zoo is partnering with other Scottish conservation organizations to develop an action plan for preserving the species. The captive breeding program managed by the zoo provides an increasingly important safety net as the wild population of this Wildcat continues to decline.
Although some similarities with Domestic Cats exist, the two species are not to be confused. The Scottish Wildcat is an isolated sub-population of the European Wildcat, which is found in continental Europe. Wildcats prefer to live alone but will come together for breeding, normally giving birth to two or three kittens, which the mother will protect fiercely.
With their big, bushy, black-ringed tail and tenacious behavior, Scottish Wildcats play a large role in Scottish lore, and were often used in clan crests.
Two baby European Bison born at Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park may one day roam eastern Europe’s natural areas as part of a program to reestablish the species, which became extinct in the wild in 1927.
The calves, one male and one female, were born at the drive-through reserve on May 13 to two different mothers. The births are part of an international program, led by Highland Wildlife Park, to manage the zoo-dwelling Bison population and help increase the wild herds.
Photo Credit: Highland Wildlife Park
European Bison are similar to American Bison and once roamed most of eastern, central, and western Europe. By 1927, there were no European Bison remaining in the wild, but 54 animals were living in zoos.
Since then, the European Bison has become a conservation success story. Through managed breeding, genetic diversity has been maximized and animals have been transported from zoos to wilderness areas in eastern Europe. Bison born at Highland Wildlife Park have been translocated in the past, and a large group is set to move to Romania later this year.
When these two calves are old enough, they may join their herdmates in the wilds of eastern Europe.
A rare Bukhara Deer calf born in June at Scotland’s RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is part of a global effort to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.
Bukhara deer are a subspecies of Red Deer native to central Asia. These deer were once one of the world's most threatened mammal species after populations diminished greatly in the 1970s and 1980s. By 1999, only 350 Deer were left in the wild.
Photo Credit: RZSS/Alex Riddell
Thanks to reintroduction of zoo-born animals and restoration of their natural habitat, Bukhara deer now number over 1,400 animals in the wild. While the reintroduction of this Deer has been successful, their population numbers are still low, which is why captive breeding of Bukhara deer remains important to their survival.
RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is home to the only breeding herd of Bukhara deer in the United Kingdom and currently has a herd of six animals.
As warm weather arrived, so did the annual birthing season at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. The latest new arrivals at the Highlands are two Elk twins, born on May 15. With their long, gangly legs and adorably oversized ears, the youngsters are already stealing visitors’ hearts.
Elk became extinct in Scotland between 1,000 and 7,000 years ago, and are a perfect fit for the Highland Wildlife Park, which specialises in native species---past and present, as well as cold tundra animals from around the world. Elk can still be found in woodlands in the northern hemisphere, throughout Scandinavia and northern Russia. Elk are particularly good at running for long periods of time, fighting off predators (due to their size and powerful kicks) and swimming.
Photo Credits: RZSS/Alex Riddell
Morag Sellar, Head Hoofed Stock Keeper at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, said, “The twins are still a little shaky on their long legs, but they are already able to keep up with their mother Cas and run around for short distances. The youngsters will continue to suckle for the next five months whilst learning to forage. Although small now, they will grow to an impressive ten times their birth size.
“We are particularly proud of our success with Elk which was acknowledged at last year’s BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Awards, where the Park received a silver award for the captive husbandry of European Elk/Moose.”
The Elk (Eurasia) or Moose (North America), Alces alces, is the largest extant species in the deer family. The palmate antlers of the males distinguish Elk/Moose; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic ("twig-like") configuration. They typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. The species used to have a much wider range but hunting and other human activities have greatly reduced it. Elk/Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most are found in Canada, Alaska, New England, Scandinavia, Latvia, Estonia and Russia.
Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. Their most common predators are wolves, bears and humans. Unlike most other deer species, Elk/Moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, they can become aggressive and move quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.