Since the park had been taken over by the current owners in 2008, much more emphasis has been put on conservation both within and outside our park boundaries. Before the current owners took over the park, there were few conservation projects which the park engaged in and when we arrived here there were only 2 projects which had been set up but never followed through and continued.
The first project was:
A site established in the car park of the park which was to be used and maintained as a breeding ground for Slow Worms. This breeding mound was populated by a group of Slow Worms, but little work was carried out following this to ensure the upkeep of the site, which quickly became inhabited by rabbits. It is an aim of ours to re-assess this site as soon as we can, to try and establish whether a colony has set up in the mound or whether it has been completely taken over by wild rabbits. If this is the case, we can go from there to see whether it is possible to remove the rabbits and re establish it with Slow Worms.
The second project was:
A release program was set up with the Scottish Wild Cats which we were involved in when a number of cats bred at the park were released on one occasion. We have been in talks since the park was taken over with the studbook co-ordinator for the species, who also liaises with the organisation which releases the animals. However we are getting on very slowly with this process, even though we have it on high authority that ours are amongst the purest Scottish Wild Cats in the country. We will continue to engage in talks to release more individuals in the future and have already selected a group of 3 individuals which we think will be suitable for release, leaving us with a strong pair to continue breeding for further releases in the future. Due to the decline in pure Wild Cats in Scotland and increase in cross breeds with feral cats the project is however looking uncertain as a number of organisations have changed their minds about whether or not it is a viable release project in the long run, and that the cat is perhaps doomed to hybridisation and eventually extinction with no way of halting this.
We have found that one of the most effective and financially viable conservation efforts which we can and are engaged in is to try and involve our customers in as much conservation education as possible (without flooding them with it and ultimately putting them off through an information overload). We have developed a number of ideas to help us put this in to effective use, while tying in to our parks ethos of being a park for all the family.
To try and keep people interested we have used a variety of different methods to educate people about similar problems including:
- Flip up signs which interactively ask people questions, revealing the answer when the sign is flipped over.
- Each enclosure has an animal information sign with one thing highlighted on each sign being their conservation status and any threats which the wild populations are under.
- Any animals which are listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered or higher have a sign on the enclosure which states their rating as well as when it was last evaluated. Two hands-on educational talks are carried out in which a keeper will allow visitors to handle a small selection of animals, accompanied by a talk which covers topics such as diet, habitat and conservation.
The animals represented in studbooks are however not the only ones which we aim to breed at the park, with further animals which are considered to be under threat on the IUCN Red List being bred at the park including:
- Red Ruffed Lemur (Varecia rubra) – Endangered
- Black & White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata) – Critically Endangered
- Hog Deer (Axis porcinus) – Endangered
- Lilac Crowned Amazon (Amazona finschi) – Vulnerable
- Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta) – Vulnerable
- West African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) – Vulnerable
- Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus) – Endangered
- Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea) – Critically Endangered
- Mollucan Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) – Vulnerable
- Umbrella Cockatoo (Cacatua alba) – Vulnerable
- Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) – Critically Endangered
- Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) – Vulnerable
- Grays Monitor (Varanus olivaceus) – Vulnerable
We put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that any animal which is of conservation value is given the best possible opportunity to reproduce at our park. Any such offspring are then offered as surplus animals to other zoos who may be interested in using them to improve the bloodlines which they have at the park. We feel that one of the most important aspects of captive breeding if we are to keep healthy animals alive in captive collections for future generations is to ensure that pure bloodlines are kept alive with the least amount of inbreeding as possible (preferably none).
Our conservation work does not however extend to merely exhibits and signs inside the park but also through pro-active work and funding to aid animals which are far outside our park boundary. The closest to home out of these projects uses items within the park to help any birds which may live or breed in the area. The most obvious of these are nest boxes which are specifically designed to serve the needs of the different types of birds which often frequent this area. The nest boxes and feeding stations which they can use are all accompanied by signs which explain the item and its uses to try and encourage people to engage in such work in their own back garden.
Our help does reach much further than this through fund raising carried out within our park for projects in other places around the world, to try and help us ensure that these animals are not only protected and bred by us in captivity but also given a real shot at long term survival in the wild.