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.