Scotland to get new big cats in zoo revamp

THE Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has announced a multi-million pound revamp of its big cat strategy with new species entering the collections at Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo.

Highland Wildlife Park will get a pair of snow leopards. Picture: TSPL
Highland Wildlife Park will get a pair of snow leopards. Picture: TSPL

A male and female jaguar and a male Amur leopard will leave Edinburgh’s collection and be rehomed elsewhere while a young female Asiatic lion, Roberta, has joined Jay, the young male to create a new pairing.

Also, a new adult male Sumatran tiger will join female Baginda and the current male, Tibor, will be transferred to another collection as recommended by the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) - Scottish wildcats will remain on view.

extensive work is also to be carried out to expand and modify enclosures on Big Cat Walkway to make them “more in-keeping with the aims of a 21st century conservation charity.”

At Highland Wildlife Park, construction is to begin on an enclosure for a pair of endangered snow leopards while a new off-show breeding facility is to be built for one of the rarest cats in the world, the Amur leopard; the Edinburgh pair were deemed incompatible. Here cubs will be born and reared with minimal exposure to humans and this hands-off approach will make the young eligible for reintroduction back to their native environment in Russia.

Announcing the RZSS’ new “overarching strategy” CEO Chris West, said: “At Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park we are focusing our skills and expertise on providing high quality environments for cats as part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) coordinated breeding programme.

“We hope our overarching conservation strategy will be welcomed and supported so we are able to achieve these vital goals. RZSS believes that the addition of these cats at Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park will add to the attraction to visitors and enhance the visitor experience.”

As part of the revamp, the RZSS’ world renowned WildGenes laboratory, based at Edinburgh Zoo, will continue to house research staff and technicians that provide DNA analysis services to zoos worldwide, including substantial projects in S E Asia, Middle East and Africa, as well as undertaking collaborative research projects on topics of national and international conservation interest.

For example the laboratory is currently assisting Al Ain Zoo, in the United Arab Emirates, to launch a breeding and research programme for the Arabian sand cat; the elusive animal’s habitat is under threat and the true number remaining in the wild is unknown.

RZSS WildGenes’ recent development of a DNA test now allows the assessment of the level of hybridisation of Scottish wildcats both in collections and in the wild and off show. Additional off show breeding areas are currently under development at the Park for high purity wildcats.