Friday, 24 December 2010

Big fat quiz of the year 2010

Update- Answers added to questions - first post of the new year later

Hi all

To finish off my second year of blogging, here is a quiz for the festive season based on this years posts. The pictures may or may not have anything to do with the questions...

Most correct answers gets to do a guest post!

Answers in the New year - and a happy Christmas to you all!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Miscellaneous Mammals 6: The Southern Fur Seal

Southern Fur Seal at Bristol
 The last of the miscellaneous mammals in this series is our group of Southern Fur Seals, Arctocephalus australis, which is the only marine mammal species we have. Considering the number of species of pinniped alive today, comparatively few are to be seen in captivity, which reflects the expense of providing suitable feeding and accommodation for them compared to terrestrial mammals. Ours live in the section called Seal and Penguin Coasts, which is one of the newer sets of accommodation constructed in recent years.

Southern Fur seals, and other species of Arctocephalus, are much less commonly seen than Californian Sea Lions, which have over 550 listed on ISIS, and many more held privately or in non-WAZA zoos. There are only 47 A.australis listed worldwide in ISIS, with a further 122 South Africa Fur Seals A.pusillus. The only Arctocephalus listed for the US is a solitary female A.pusillus at Louisville zoo.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Miscellaneous Mammals 5: The Yellow Armadillo

Yellow Armadillo
 A common sight in the southern United States is remains of the Nine Banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus, generally flattened on roads. As armadillos are so widespread, and with a few exceptions mostly not under serious threat, there are not many to be seen in the world’s zoos. This I feel is a great pity, as they are fascinating animals with numerous peculiarities. We are lucky here at Bristol to have a breeding pair of Yellow or Six-banded Armadillos, Euphractus sexcinctus, plus a tame individual which we have in our animal displays in the summer. ISIS lists a total of 68 individuals worldwide in WAZA zoos.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Miscellaneous Mammals4: Linnes Two-toed Sloth

Sharing and enclosure in Twilight World with some Dourocouli monkeys are Bristol Zoo’s pair of Linne’s Two-Toed sloth, Choloepus didactylus. This is the commonest species of sloth to be seen in zoos, followed by its close relative Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth C.hoffmanni.

Both species have multiple subspecies, and few if any in captivity are diagnosed as to which they belong to. For this reason the sloth’s in captivity are primarily display and research subjects, rather than captive breeding and reintroduction candidates. In any case, both species are widespread and are listed as of Least Concern by the IUCN.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Miscellaneous Mammals 3: The Long-Nosed Potoroo

Long-Nosed Potoroo
 Sharing the enclosure of the Sugar Gliders I discussed last week is our pair of Long-Nosed Potoroos, Potorous tridactylus. These are strange and specialised relatives of the kangaroos and wallabies and along with a few related species are placed in the family Potoridae. The group is sometimes referred to as rat-kangaroos, but these days they are usually referred to as Potoroos or Bettongs. They seem to be a very ancient group, and seem to have retained the ancient lifestyle of the common ancestor they share with the more open-country adapted wallabies and true kangaroos.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Miscellaneous mammals 2: The Sugar Glider

In Twilight World, our nocturnal house, one of the more easily overlooked species are our Sugar Gliders, Petaurus breviceps, of which we currently have 6. This is about the only commonly seen gliding mammal to be found in the world’s zoos, and is also widely known in the pet trade, but there are a few other species in its genus and some more distantly related forms may be found in some collections. Currently there are 6 species in Petaurus, but this may change (see below),

The feature of Sugar Gliders that give them their name is the patagium, a flap of skin between the front and hind legs which stretches out to form a gliding membrane when the animal jumps from a tree, either to travel between trees or to escape from a predator. If the wind is right, a sugar glider can travel as much as 100m in a single glide, although 10m or so is more usual. Sugar gliders are small mammals, about 40cm long, of which more than half is tail. The weight is 100g – 150g, with males weighing more.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Miscellaneous Mammals: The Sand Cat

When you enter Twilight World, the nocturnal house at Bristol Zoo, one of the first animals you will see are our three Arabian Sand Cats, Felis margarita harrisoni. Sand Cats (there are six subspecies described) have a vast range, extending from Algeria in the west to Baluchistan in central Asia, and have recently been reported from Syria.

Although in many ways similar to the domestic cat (which derives from the Africa Wild Cat Felis sylvestris lybica), Sand Cats have many specialisations for their desert lifestyle and need specialised accommodation in captivity. Most are shown in nocturnal houses, although this is not strictly necessary as they will be active in daylight if food is involved. Incidentally, Bristol pioneered the reverse lighting scheme that enables visitors to observe nocturnal animals during their activity period. The current version opened about 13 years ago.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Trees of Bristol: The Ginkgo

 At this time of year, among the fallen leaves can be seen the distinctive fan-shaped leaves of the zoo’s Ginkgo trees. Ginkgos can be seen in many parts of the world today, as they make good street trees. Ginkgos adapt well to the urban environment, tolerating pollution and confined soil spaces. They rarely suffer disease problems, even in urban conditions, and are attacked by few insects. That they are to be seen anywhere however is a major triumph of survival, as Ginkgos are among the oldest living plants.

'Autumn Gold'
For centuries it was thought to be extinct in the wild, but is now known to grow in at least two small areas in Zhejiang province in Eastern China, in the Tian Mu Shan Reserve. These populations may have received at least some assistance by local people in their survival, as ginkgos are often grown in the grounds of Buddhist monasteries.

Prior to their discovery by western explorers of China, Ginkgos were only known to western science as fossils, mostly of leaves. The fossil record of the group reaches back to the Permian period, 270 million years ago, and at their height there were at least 16 genera with a variety of forms. Some were like the trees of today, others were more shrubby and with divided leaves that must have made them look rather like Japanese maples. Their origins are unclear (this is the case with most plant groups), as in some respects they resemble cycads, in others conifers. The mostly likely origin is a group generally referred to as the seed ferns, as they had fern like leaf structures but produced seeds like more advances plants..

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Halloween special - vampire moths?

Lurking in the forests of Transylvania flies a strange and unsettling species of otherwise unremarkable moth, Calyptra thalictrii. Belonging to the widespread group of moths, the Noctuiidae, this species until recently lived as an adult on the juices sucked from fruit, like the other members of its genus. However, at some point it changed its diet, and now is known to feed on blood, even that of humans.

To be fair, there are other species of moth which also feed on blood, although feeding from the tears or sweat of mammals is far more common in lepidoptera – even in our own butterfly house the Glasswings will often land on people to feed on their sweat (this is especially true if they have been eating chips – they are attracted by the salt). The Asian Vampire Moth Calyptra eustrigata, even attacks elephants!

It is good to know that the vampire moth rarely attacks humans, and as far as is known only males have been observed feeding on blood. The reason for this difference between males and females is unclear, but in many species of butterfly and moth the males accumulate compounds from their food to be used as pheromones in courtship, so possibly something similar is happening here.

C.canadensis larva
The caterpillar of the vampire moth feeds on meadow rue, Thalictrum, which is a very widespread European plant. I have not been able to find out anything about the flight season, which may vary with the location, but the related Calyptra canadensis from North America (including Canada) flies from July onwards and probably overwinters as an egg.

Until recently, vampire moths were restricted to south east Europe and further east, as far as Japan, but whether they feed on blood throughout their range is unclear. What is clear is that they have been spreading north and west in recent years, and have now reached Sweden and Finland. Given their distribution, I suspect the UK may not have the right climate (too wet) for a breeding population to establish itself here, but stranger things have happened. So if a moth suddenly starts paying attention to you – watch out!

Images from Wikipedia and

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Parrots 8 The Rainbow Lorikeet

The last of the parrots to cover in this series are the birds in our popular walk through exhibit, the Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus, of which we currently have over 40 in the walk-through in the centre of the zoo. The walk through opened last year and has proved very popular with visitors, although parents of small children should be warned that they are very noisy when coming down to feed from cups of nectar in the visitors hands, and small children can be scared if they are not expecting this.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Parrots Part 7: The Blue-Streaked Lory

Living in an aviary next door to our Chattering Lories is a pair of another beautiful species of nectar feeding parrot, the Blue-Streaked Lory Eos reticulata. Originating from islands in the Banda Sea west of Papua New Guinea, it is fairly numerous but may be threatened by deforestation, and is therefore classified by the IUCN as Near Threatened.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Parrots Part 6: The Chattering Lory

Tucked away in the far corner of the zoo is our pair of Yellow-Backed Chattering Lories, Lorius garullus flavopalliatus. They are well named – they are a highly vocal species.

There are about 6 species in the genus Lorius, each with several subspecies. The various forms range through Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where they live in the canopy of primary and secondary (re-grown) rainforest> As with all lories the Chattering Lory is a specialist in feeding on nectar and pollen, although fruits, plant material, and insect larvae are also taken. To help them with their diet, the ends of their tongues are covered with projections, giving them the name “brush-tongues parrots”.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The day of the gingers

Just a brief interruption on the series on Bristol’s parrots to cover one of the plant collections we have here. Bristol holds two national collections as part of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (now renamed Plant Heritage), which is a gardeners organisation in the UK dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and research on garden plants. As part of its work, Plant Heritage regulates no less than 650 plant collections held by both public bodies like Bristol Zoo or Kew gardens, and also keen amateur gardeners. For more on the NCCPG see the link here:

Monday, 27 September 2010

Parrots Part 5: The macaws

Currently Bristol has only two macaws, with only one on show. This is our male Scarlet Macaw ‘Rio’, who members of the public can meet most days in our Amazing Animlas show, where he flys free and usually circles over the audience several times. Macaws are among the most intelligent and long lived of all parrots – one Blue and Gold Macaw that is till alive today is said to be over 100 years old and is claimed to have once belonged to Winston Churchill (although this last is probably apocryphal – though it still swears at Hitler). They need their long lives because they do not have a high reproductive rate – at best they only manage to rear one or two young to independence every 3 years or so. Unfortunately, all large macaws are under high pressure from nest poaching for the pet trade, both internationally and within national boundaries, and many species are threatened. Several species were formerly found in various Caribbean islands but are now extinct. As a species, Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) are listed as Least Concern, but the northern subspecies A.macao cyanoptera is down to perhaps as few as 1,000 individuals.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Parrots part 4: The Red-Tailed Amazon

In one corner of the zoo is our Zona Brazil section, which houses various animals from one of the most highly threatened habitats in South America, the Atlantic Rainforest. This lowland coastal region has some species in common with the Amazon basin, but many are either endemic species or subspecies. Among the primates we have three of the four species of Lion Tamarin Leontopithecus here at Bristol, and I will blog about those some other time. The species I want to write about today is the other species of Amazon we hold at Bristol, our family of Red Tailed Amazons Amazona brasiliensis.

Red-Tailed Amazons are among the largest in the genus, with a length of 35cm from beak to tip of tail, and a weight of around 425g (1 pound). The plumage is almost entirely green, with the red band on the tail that gives the bird its name on the underside of the tail, and a broad yellow band at the end of the tail.

The Atlantic rainforest and its inhabitants are chiefly threatened by deforestation and other development, as the coastal regions of Brazil are the most highly populated. Their natural habitat is divided into river islands or mangrove thickets where they roost and breed, and mainland rainforest where they feed. Because of this specialised requirement, both islands and nearby forest must be preserved to conserve the species. Most of the remaining population of around 5-6,000 birds is found in Sao Paulo and Parana.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Parrots of Bristol 3: The Lilacine Amazon

Rather tucked away in a corner of the zoo is an aviary containing our family of Lilacine Amazons, Amazona autumnalis lilacina. Currently composed of the breeding pair and three of their offspring, we have bred this species on several occasions. Incidentally, the young from previous years have been left with the parents and this did not interfere with the successful fledging of youngsters.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Parrots of Bristol 2: The Black-Cheeked Lovebird (100th post!)

Close to the water play area in the middle of the zoo is our colony of Black-Cheeked lovebirds, Agapornis nigrigenis. Lovebirds have long been kept as pets, and several species are sufficiently well established that there are numerous colour varieties, but the Black-cheeked is not one of them. Until a ban was imposed some years ago, there was a trade in wild-caught birds, but this has now ceased, although some are caught for food or to protect crops.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Bristol Parrots 1: Killer Clowns

“Clowns of the Snowline” is the commonest description of the first species in Bristol’s parrot collection that I am going to write about, the Kea, Nestor notabilis. It is appropriate that I start with this species, as it represents the earliest branch on the family tree of living parrots, together with some other New Zealand species, the Weka Nestor meridionalis, and the famous Kakapo, Strigops habrotila. These make up the family Nestoridae, together with the extinct Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productus (extinct 1851). A fourth form of Nestor, the extinct Chatham Island Kaka, is not certainly a separate species and has not been scientifically described. Wekas are very similar to Keas, but are lowland rather than mountain birds.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Butterflies of Bristol 14: These just in

No time for a full post this week - some new arrivals for our butterfly house though. In addition to these new species, we have the usual cast of characters - see previous posts on butterflies at Bristol.

The Malachite Siproeta stelenes

This beautiful luminous green and black butterfly is fairly large, about the size of a Red Admiral, and like all our butterflies originates from Costa Rica. (incidentally, check out the website of our supplier, El Bosque Nuevo for more information),

Malachite butterflies have a huge range extending from southern Texas and the tip of Florida, south to northern Brazil. The caterpillar feeds on plants of the Acanthaceae, a mainly tropical family which provides several housplants such as Fittonia, although the main foodplant appears to be Ruellia. They may lay on some of the houseplants planted as ground cover in the butterfly house. Like most nymphalid, the larva is covered with bristles. Adults are fond of roosting on the underside of leaves in low shrubs.

The Olivewing Nessaea aglaura

These butterflies have very distinctive green undersides to their wings, which provides camouflage. The upper sides are dark brown with sky blue diagonal streaks. Females have red spots on the center of the forewing.

They are usually found in primary forest up to 800m, where they spend a lot of time resting on low foliage up to 3m from the ground. They like to bask in sunshine, opening their wings to show their bright blue stripes, and are very fond of particular resting spots, to which they return if disturbed.

The eggs are laid on Alchornea or Plukunetia, which belong to the Euphorbiaceae, but I have found one report of them laying on stinging nettle in captivity.

Next week, normal service, starting with the "Clown of the Snowline", the Kea. Clowns may have a dark side however...
(Images from Wikipedia)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Rodents of Bristol 9:The weirdest of them all

To draw this series on the rodents on show at Bristol to a close, I will finish with what is arguably the weirdest mammal (certainly the weirdest rodent) in the world, the Naked Mole Rat Heterocephalus glaber. Belonging to a sub-Saharan family of burrowing rodents, the Bathyergidae, Naked Mole Rats are confined to the horn of Africa from Kenya to the Sudan, where they can be locally common depending on the environment.

As you might guess from their range, they are essentially aridland animals, living almost entirely on the starchy tubers of desert plants, which provide all the water they need. Some of these tubers can be 60cm across, and the colony will feed on them for months or years. Quite often, when they finish they will use the hollow in the still living plant as a latrine site, thereby providing the plant with a fertilizer boost so they can return in a year or two’s time when it has regenerated.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Rodents of Bristol 8: Returning ratty

As many people in the UK at least will know, Ratty in Wind in the Willows was actually a Water Vole, Arvicola terrestris (there is some dispute about the scientific name – it may be more properly described as A.amphibius). Once a familiar sight along canals and rivers, anywhere in Britain (including northern Scotland) where there is dense grass or reed next to water, the Water Vole has experienced a catastrophic drop in numbers in recent years. The main causes appear to be habitat destruction and even more the spread of American Mink, which have escaped or been released from fur farms (in some cases by animal rights activists). Unfortunately, Mink are far more successful predators of voles than native ones such as Otters, Barn owls and Grey Herons, and in fragmented habitats especially the voles cannot survive the predation pressure.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Rodents of Bristol 7: Pests and their relatives

On display in Twilight world the final section is devoted to animals found in close proximity to man, of which three are rodents – House Mouse, Brown Rat, and Black or Roof Rat. All these are among the most succesful of all mammals, owing to their adaptation to life alongside humans (and their food stores). All are causes of serious conservation problems wherever they have been taken, especially on islands, where they readily abandon human dependency and prey on local wildlife, especially birds and their eggs.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 6: Praire Dogs

One of the exhibits we have at Bristol that is very popular with the public is our small colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, Cynomys ludovicianus. There are five species of prairie dogs - the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), the white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus), the Gunnison prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni), the Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), and the Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus). The only species that is to be seen in zoos is the Black-Tailed.

Unlike the other species, the Black-Tailed does not hibernate, probably because it is usually found in warmer and wetter climates than the others, and its staple diet of grasses is therefore available all year round. In the autumn, broadleaf plants become more important as green grass is less available. In winter, any available green vegetation is consumed. In the spring and summer, each prairie dog consumes up to two pounds of vegetation per week.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 5: Turkish Spiny Mice

On view in Twilight World here at Bristol we have a group of interesting small rodents, the Turkish Spiny Mice Acomys cilicicus. Several UK zoos hold this species; Bristol has 33 (at last count!) and there are nearly 600 in UK zoos in all. The reason there are so many being kept is that the species is believed to be rare and possibly endangered in its homeland – at present it is only known from the type locality. For species with a comparatively short lifespan and rapid turnover of generations, the captive population must be larger in order to avoid rapid loss of genetic diversity.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Phasmid Study Group summer meeting

On Saturday I went up to the Phasmid Study Group summer meeting at the Natural History Museum in London. The PSG is one of the older specialist invertebrate study groups in the world, and has a wide membership from professional entomologists to children (some of whom came to the meeting).

Phasmids (variously called stick insects or walking sticks) are a very widespread group, occurring on all continents and in most climates. There are no native British species, but at least three New Zealand species have been established in the UK for nearly 100 years. In warmer climates they are a potential pest, so in the US especially keepers may face restrictions on whether they can keep them, depending on the local climate and agriculture. Despite their potential for producing large numbers of offspring, in the UK at least they are an apparently harmless addition to the British insect fauna.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Rodents of Bristol 4: The Agouti

Often overlooked in the Zona Brazil section are two large rodents distantly related to the capybaras, although they are closer to the domestic guinea pig or cavy. These are our two male Azara’s Agouti, Dasyprocta azarae. There are eleven species of Dasyprocta currently described, although I would not be surprised to learn there are more, and they range although the tropical rainforests of central and South America. Azara’s Agouti is found from central and southern Brazil, through eastern Paraguay to Argentina.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Rodennts of Bristol 3: World's largest Guinea Pig

Two of the more popular animals in Zona Brazil, our Atlantic Rainforest section at Bristol are our two female capybaras, Daisy and Lily. The name capybara comes from Guarani, and means “master of the grasses”, a good name for the largest living rodent. They are indeed relatives of thhe common pet Guinea Pig or Cavy.

Capybaras can grow to 50kg or more, and are often common where they are found. There are two species, the common Capybara Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris and the Lesser Capybara Hydrochoerus isthmius. H. hydrochaeris is found throughout tropical South America, whereas H.isthmius only found in eastern Panama, northwestern Colombia and western Venezuela.

Capybara are highly aquatic, living a rather hippopotamus-like lifestyle, spending most of the day in the water and coming out on land to feed on waterside vegetation in the evening. Depending on hunting pressure, they may be almost nocturnal.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Rodents of Bristol 2: The Giant Rat of Madagascar

Although the Madagascar is famous for its lemurs, and to a lesser extent its reptiles, many other groups are either entirely or nearly entirely confined to the island. Among these are a very diverse group of rodents, the Nesomyids. Although clearly related to the giant rodent family Muridae, which includes the common pests of house mouse and brown rat, all the endemic Malagasy rodents form a single clade, which probably originated from a single colonization from Asia and subsequently diverged into the 21 species (at least) in nine genera that are known today.

Given that the number of species of lemur that have been identified in recent years, the comparative lack of study of the rodents, and the widespread habitat destruction in Madagascar, it seems likely that many more species have either recently become extinct or await discovery.

Madagascan rodents occupy every available habitat, from dry spiny forest to rainforest, and vary in size and habitat from the gerbil-like Macrotarsomys up to the 1.5kg subject of this article, the Giant Jumping Rat or Votosvotsa Hypogeomys antimena.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Rodents of Bristol 1: Hopping to it

To kick of a new series on Bristol Zoos rodents, I will begin with one of the cuter rodents we have here – Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat Dipodomys merriami. We have some on show in Twilight World and their characteristic method of locomotion (shared with several other desert rodents) always draws a crowd. This dry land rodent is found throughout the south western North America from California to Mexico. It gets its name from the hopping method of locomotion it uses – they can jump up to 1m in any direction, which comes in handy when escaping from rattlesnakes, one of their main predators.

Like many rodents it is solitary, living in burrows which usually have entrances at the base of shrubs. The only time several animals share a burrow system is when a female has young – up to four pups three times a year from February to May.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Royal Bath & West Show

This weekend I spent two tiring days at the Royal Bath & West Show south of Bristol. This is the largest agricultural show still running in the UK, and has been in operation since 1777. I went down to help out at the Severn Counties stand, but I took along a small collection of my own animals to show the public – mostly invertebrates of various kinds, but also lizards and snakes. Judging by the responses I got, the visitors were mostly very interested.

Exhibitors have to get down to the show grounds early, which means you see some sights that you won’t get otherwise, like seeing a Highland Cow getting its coat combed and blow dried in preparation for the show ring, and helping carry a 50kg African Spur-Thighed tortoise up a flight of stairs to the British Chelonia Group stand.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

June Research Colloquium - Conservation and Development – some perspectives

This month’s colloquium was a talk by Neil Maddison, who is in charge of our conservation programme links here at Bristol, with some insights into the problems faced by conservation programmes. The focus was primarily on our work in partnership with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which we are involved with as part of the conservation project for the Livingstone’s Fruit Bat Pteropus livingstonii. (image taken at Bristol)

All too often it seems to me, conservationists focus entirely on the species they care about, without any regard for the people, especially the locals, who are at the centre of the problem. The Comoros is a good example of work Bristol is helping to pioneer in aiming for a more broadly based approach.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Trees of Bristol 1: The Whitebeams and others

Outside the aquarium at Bristol there is a small garden containing various rare or endemic plants of the Avon Gorge, among them are several trees, including two endemic forms of Sorbus, the genus that contains the Whitebeams and Rowan trees. The South West of England is a major global centre of diversity in Sorbus, with at least 16 native species plus another two naturalised European forms in the Avon Gorge that runs by the zoo, and more being identified all the time. In addition, more endemic species can be found nearby in north Devon, the Cheddar Gorge, and Symonds’ Yat.

Friday, 21 May 2010

In Memoriam

(taken from the Bristol Zoo website)

Bristol Zoo Gardens announces the death of its lioness, Moti

Submitted by lucy on Wed, 2010-05-19 10:25

It is with great sadness that Bristol Zoo Gardens announces that Moti, our female Asiatic lion, has died.

Zoo vets diagnosed extensive disease of Moti’s reproductive tract which was unlikely to have responded to treatment. Zoo keepers and the vet team had been closely monitoring her condition, however, due to the advanced nature of her illness and the recent deterioration of her health, the decision was made for her to be euthanased, aged 15.

Bristol Zoo's lioness, MotiMoti was born at Helsinki Zoo, Finland, in 1994 and was hand reared by keepers. She arrived at Bristol Zoo in January 1996, where she has lived since. She had her first cub at Bristol Zoo in March 1998, but it only survived for a few days. She went on to have two cubs in August 1998, Indi and Dacca, and a third in August 2001, Aiesha. They have since grown up and moved to other European zoos as part of a managed conservation breeding programme.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Strangely musical - some unexpected discoveries about gibbons

Two of my favourite animals at Bristol are Samuel and Douana, our pair of Agile gibbons Hylobates agilis. I always feel that singling out a gibbon as “Agile” is a bit unfair, as all the gibbons are famous for their acrobatics. They are the most species-rich group of all the apes, with four living genera (Hylobates, Symphalangus, Nomascus and Hoolock), and numerous identifiable species and subspecies.

Unfortunately for both taxonomists and zoos, gibbons will hybridize freely both in the wild and in animal collections, and a lot of work now has to be done to identify the status of the various gibbons in captivity. Our own pair are both too closely related and probably of hybrid origin, so they are not being allowed to breed.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 9: And finally ...

Of all the endangered pigeons currently on show at Bristol, the species I am most proud we have is one of the rarest in the world, the Mauritius Pink Pigeon Nesoeanas mayeri. As the last surviving endemic pigeon of the Mascarenes (Mauritius and its related islands of Reunion and Rodrigues) it is of very considerable interest.

The exact taxonomic position of the Pink Pigeon has been unclear, and it has been placed in either the Old World pigeon genus Columba (along with the Rock Dove), or with the Collared Doves in Streptopelia. It seems to belong, with its much smaller relative the Madagascar Turtle Dove, in a separate clade, and is now placed in Nesoeanas. It appears that its ancestors colonised Mauritius from Madagascar some millions of years ago and evolved there, later colonising the younger island of Reunion. Reunion Pink Pigeons (now sadly extinct) have been placed in a separate subspecies, but were apparently very similar.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 8: The Socorro Dove

Currently off show at Bristol, but one we have bred in the past, is probably the rarest dove in the world, the Socorro Dove Zenaida graysoni. We only have a single pair, and the entire world population of pure Socorro Doves currently stands at only 87 birds, all but 20 of which are in Europe.

As recently as 40 years ago, Socorro Doves were still fairly common on Socorro Island, which is the largest of the Revillagigedo Islands a few hundred kilometres south of Baja California. Unfortunately, at about that time feral cats became established on the islands, and a large sheep population began to destroy the dense understorey that it required as a cover and food source. The last wild Socorro Dove was reported in 1972.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 7: Turtle Doves

In the Camargue Aviary as you enter Bristol Zoo your attention is first drawn to our flock of Greater Flamingos and Little Egrets. Many do not notice a very beautiful dove we also hold in this exhibit, the European Turtle-Dove.

These migratory relatives of the well-known Collared Dove, which breeds in the Zoo grounds, are unfortunately in serious decline as a resident in the UK, having suffered a loss of 69% in the last 30 years, probably mainly as a result of changes in agriculture, although it has probably also suffered from changes to the wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. The current estimate may be as low as 44,000 pairs in the UK.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Severn Counties talk 15th April

Last Thursday Severn Counties hosted the second talk we have had from Steve Brookes, who runs an ecotourism company called Wild Parrots Up Close ( ). A very interesting evening was had by all, as Steve had a great presentation of the birds seen on previous trips to one of the South American destinations he takes small groups of people to – in this case Ecuador.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

April Research colloquium: Rhinos of the Caribbean

This month’s talk was given by John Bendon, an artist working with the Iguana Specialist Group of the IUCN, and was an overview of the magnificent Cyclura ground iguanas of the Caribbean. We have an adult pair at Bristol of one of the largest species, the Rhinoceros Iguana of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which has a length nose to tail of over 1m and has adult males that can weigh 10kg. Last year, we bred them for the first time, producing 17 young of which 5 can be seen on-show and the remainder are being held off-show for growth studies.

There are currently at least 17 distinct species and subspecies of ground iguanas recognized, but in reality every small cay (flat coral island) or larger island harbours a local form that can often be identified, at least by DNA work. This is still only a fraction of the diversity that may have formerly existed – as with giant tortoises, human predation combined with introduced pigs, cats, dogs, and mongooses has called local extinctions, especially on small islands. At least one species, the Jamaican Iguana Cyclura collei, was believed extinct until rediscovered in the 1990’s, and despite extensive conservation work still only has a population of perhaps 100 adults in the wild, with few young surviving.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 6: A confusion of Fruit Doves

Scattered throughout South East Asia, Indonesia, and many Pacific islands are members of a huge group of small-to-medium sized, and usually very colourful, pigeons, generally referred to as Fruit-Doves of the genus Ptilinopus. We have two species at Bristol, the Black-naped Fruit-Dove P. melanospila (above) and the Beautiful Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus pulchellus (below). There are nearly 200 different subspecies described, with probably more awaiting description, and with an unknown number of extinct forms, especially on Pacific islands.

Unfortunately, as a result of the huge diversity of species, there has been little effort to establish breeding programmes for many of the forms currently held in the world’s zoos. Most of those held are widespread species without major threats at present, but there are numerous island endemics which are in a precarious condition and research on their husbandry and ecology is badly needed.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 5: Count the Ducula

Throughout the rainforests of South East Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific anywhere there is a reasonable expanse of rainforest you are likely to find in the trees a large pigeon, commonly called an Imperial-Pigeon, of the genus Ducula. Currently at Bristol we have two species, the Chestnut-naped Imperial-Pigeon D.aenea shown below and the Pied Imperial-Pigeon D.bicolor at the head of this post.

These are the most likely to be seen in any zoo which holds Imperial-Pigeons, but the ISIS listing currently shows 12 other species in various zoos, mostly only a few individuals at a single collection, although the Nutmeg or Torres Strait Pigeon, with 154 worldwide, is also to be seen and aside from the two species at Bristol probably the only one with a viable captive population. In the wild however Imperial-Pigeons are very diverse, with over 100 different species or subspecies described.