Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review of the year part 1 - Bristol 2012

We are nearly at the end of 2012 so we will finish off the year with some of the new highlights from the last twelve months, starting with Bristol Zoo in this post and finishing off with some round the world news next week

Newborn stingray
Babies have been born to two new stingrays which arrived at Bristol Zoo last summer.

Nine ocellated freshwater stingray pups were born last week after two new females were introduced to the Zoo’s male stingray last year.

The new females, sisters named Catalina & Genevieve, arrived at Bristol Zoo from

Weston Seaquarium and have wasted little time in breeding. Catalina has produced six pups and three pups are from Genevieve.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Unhappy as Clams

One of the smaller tanks in the aquarium has a new exhibit – a small member of one of the largest bivalves on earth, the Southern Giant Clam Tridacna derasa. With a maximum size of 60cm, it exceeded only by T.gigas, which can reach nearly 1m across. While they are of course exceeded in mass by several species of squid, for a mollusc that is still a pretty respectable size, and the weight of the heavy shell increases their bulk. This giant size is all the odder when it turns out they are actually most closely related to the standard small cockles, Cerastoderma, that can be found around the shores of the UK. This is not due to an especially long life, but rather rapid growth rates – they can be 30cm across within 10 years in some species.

Monday, 10 December 2012

New Arrivals: Ground Cuscus

Ground Cuscus
Recently gone on show in Twilight World is one of the few species of marsupial (other than kangaroos and wallabies) to be seen in zoos outside Australia – a pair of Ground Cuscus Phalanger gymnotis. Closely related to the Brushtail Possum Trichosurus arnhemensis which is widely spread throughout Australia, and as an introduced species is a major threat to New Zealand’s native fauna, the Ground Cuscus is currently listed as Least Concern, although deforestation and over-hunting may be a cause of local declines. It is quite a widespread species however, so as a species it is not in any especial trouble.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Update: Return of the deadly teddy bears

This is a repost of one of my earlier posts on this blog in honour of our latest arrivals - newborn Pygmy Slow Lorises Nycticebus pygmaeues. Hope you like it!
Pygmy Slow Loris N.pygmaeus
Prowling through the forests of West Africa and Asia are a group of nocturnal primates distantly related to bushbabies and lemurs. Varying in size from a half grown guinea pig to a ring-tailed lemur, the lorises are an ancient group, with a fossil record dating back 40 million years or more.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Galliformes 14: And finally…

Japanese Onagadori - tails can grow to 8m!
The last of this series should perhaps have been the first, as its Latin name Gallus domesticus is the source of the name of the whole order Galliformes – the ‘chicken-like’ birds. These are actually the commonest bird in Britain (115 million adults in mid-summer according to official statistics) and the British eat 877 million each year, plus a vast number of eggs. It is probably the main source of animal protein in the British diet, but production is notorious for animal welfare issues, especially around housing conditions for the birds during the few short weeks it takes for them to grow to a saleable size. Partly as a result, many more people these days are keeping chickens in their back gardens. Unfortunately, a desire to see their eggs produced in a more humane living environment is not always matched by a proper knowledge of medical care and diet, and concerns have been raised that these back garden birds may constitute a disease reservoir that may be a problem to commercial flocks. In addition, many cities now have large populations of urban foxes, which can be a serious threat to birds kept in open-topped pens, especially when the owners are at work.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Galliformes 13: Turkeys, domestic and wild

Stag (male) turkey displaying
A survey of all the galliform birds that can be encountered in the UK would be incomplete without covering the two domesticated species that just about everyone except vegetarians will eat each year, the turkey and the chicken. I will cover chickens (which have a long and complex cultural as well as culinary history) next week, but this week I will look at a bird that is going to feature in a lot of peoples meals in the next month or so.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Galliformes 12: Common Quail

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
One of the smallest gamebirds in the UK is also one of the hardest to see, as a result of its secretive nature and its fondness for living in cornfields. While the gamebirds I have covered so far in this series are highly sedentary, the Common Quail Coturnix coturnix that we have in the UK are highly migratory, with western European birds overwintering in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara and with eastern European birds travelling to India. The British population is at the extreme northern edge of its range, and only a few hundred males are heard calling each year. Part of the problem with counting them is that once paired up males become silent, and small silent birds in the middle of a large cornfield are impossible to detect. They arrive in late April and depart for winter quarters in late summer.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Galliformes 11: The Capercaillie

Male Western Capercaillie
One of the largest birds in Britain is also a close relative of the Black Grouse, the Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus. Among other distinctions, it was the first native species to be reintroduced to this country after having been exterminated by human activity (mostly deforestation and over-hunting). Although the reintroduction was at first highly successful, today the species is in trouble once more, and a good deal of intervention is underway to prevent it going extinct a second time.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Galliformes 10: The Joy of Leks – The Black Grouse

The third of the British Grouse to cover in this series is one that is threatened in the UK, but is still very widespread abroad – the Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix. With a natural range extending in suitable habitat from Western Europe across to Eastern China, and Korea, the Black Grouse is essentially a bird of early successional forest and forest edge habitats in the Taiga zone, and in the UK is on the extreme edge of its range. In Turkey and the Caucasus mountains it is replaced by the very similar Caucasian Grouse T.mklosiewiczi

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Galliformes 9: Rock Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan - spring plumage
Still to be found on the peaks of the Cairngorms, and other mountains in northern Scotland, can be found one of the hardiest of British birds, the Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta. Once found in the Lake District in England and the Southern Uplands in Scotland, this is a relict species, surviving from the last Ice Age. Widespread outside the UK, with a circumpolar distribution, it is basically the northern replacement for the Willow Grouse, living in barren, treeless landscapes of the tundra. South of the Arctic, the changing habitat as the world warmed up after the last glaciation marooned populations on the peaks of various mountains far to the south of its main range, where the bitter winds and cold winters that it is adapted to survive still gave it an edge against competitors.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Galliformes 8: Red Grouse

Red Grouse (summer)
While many species of Galliform bird can be seen in zoos and private collections all over thw world, one group is conspicuous by their near total absence. These are the grouse, the various species of which are the most distinctive terrestrial birds of Arctic and Taiga regions of the northern hemisphere. Often classed as a separate family Tetraonidae, they have many unique dietary and behavioural specialisations, which is why they are much harder to maintain in captivity.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Galliformes 7: Red-Legged Partridge

A.rufa (France)
In 1770 a new species of partridge in addition to our native Grey Partridge was introduced into the UK for hunting. This was the Red-Legged or French Partridge, Alectoris rufa, and releases continue to this day on game estates.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Galliformes 6: Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge
Before the increase in managed shooting estates aimed at pheasants, the most commonly hunted gamebird in Britain was the Grey Partridge, Perdix perdix. One of three species in its genus, the natural range extends from the Arctic Circle south to the Mediterranean, and from western Europe across to western China. To the east and south of its range it is replaced by the very similar Daurian Partridge, P. daurica, and on the Tibetan plateau by the rather distinct Tibetan Partridge, P.hodgsoniae.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Galliformes 5: Other UK pheasants

Male Golden Pheasant
As well as the Common pheasants released for hunting, a few other species have either escaped or been released into the wild in the UK, and a few have at least temporarily established themselves in the wild. The two species most often seen are species of Chrysolophus, particularly the widely kept Golden Pheasant, C.pictus. More rarely seen is the only other species in the genus, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. C.amherstiae. Although both have bred in the wild, at present only a tiny population of Golden Pheasant is known to still exist in a feral state, although free-ranging birds can be seen in many zoos and parks, including Kew Gardens in London.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Galliformes 4: Common Pheasant

P.colchicus male - hybrid swarm type
On a drive through the countryside in much of the UK, the most instantly recognizable bird you have a good chance of seeing is a Common or Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus. Although most people think of it as native, it is in fact an introduced species, and like many pheasants its natural distribution is in Asia, reaching no farther west than the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus (ancient Colchis of Jason and the Argonauts fame, which is where the specific name comes from). The range extends from their westwards north of the Himalaya as far as the Pacific, reaching north to Siberia and south to northern Vietnam and Taiwan. In Japan it is replaced by the closely related Green Pheasant, P.versicolor. Wherever it is found, the habitat preference is for grassland and farmland with small copses and woodland edge, which it needs for roosting and nesting.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Galliformes 3: Satyr Tragopan

Male Satyr Tragopan
In the forests of the Himalaya across to as far east as the mountains of Vietnam can be found five species of large pheasant in the genus Tragopan. These distinctive birds usually live in deciduous forest with an understorey of rhododendron and bamboo, at fairly high altitudes – well over 4,200m, although they may descend to lower altitudes in the winter. At Bristol we have one of the more richly coloured of the group, the Satyr Tragopan or Horned Pheasant, Tragopan satyra.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Galliformes 2: Palawan Peacock-Pheasant

Male Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Scattered through the forests of south east Asia and related islands are a group of six or seven species of small pheasant in the genus Polyplectron. Most of the species have the wings of the males ornamented with eye spots reminiscent of those on a peacocks tail, from which they get their English name of Peacock-pheasant. In fact, recent DNA analysis has shown that they are indeed related to their much larger cousins, and also other pheasants with highly ornamented wings and tails such as the Great Argus pheasant Argusianus argus, the Congo Peafowl Afropavo congensis and the Crested Argus Rheinartia ocellata.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Galliformes 1: Roulroul partridge

At Bristol we do not keep many species of galliform (the group of birds that includes chickens, pheasants, turkey, grouse etc) at present, but in the past we kept more. This group of birds has been popular with humans for a very long time, at first as favourite prey items (a state that still persists) and then as domesticated birds for eggs and meat. More recently, many species of gamebird are kept for ornamental purposes as well. Unfortunately, several species, especially the rainforest forms, are now threatened by deforestation and over-hunting. Their mostly prolific nature (many lay large clutches) and the ease with which chicks can be artificially reared means that it is often possible to boost wild numbers by raising and releasing captive raised birds, either for conservation purposes or for hunting. At present, Bristol has three species of galliform bird on show.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Frogs of Bristol 7: Green Mantella

The latest species of amphibian to go on show in the Amphipod is the Green Mantella, Mantella viridis. After the success we had in the last couple of years with breeding Golden Mantellas (M. aurantiaca), with over 600 froglets distributed to zoos in Europe and elsewhere, we have temporarily suspended breeding them and moved on to their slightly larger cousins.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The great southern invasion

Great Bittern

Grey Heron
 When I was a child, only two species of heron, the Grey Heron and the European Great Bittern, bred in the UK, and Bitterns were incredibly rare and hard to see. White Stork and Spoonbill were rare vagrants, and Glossy Ibis unheard of. If you made a trip to the Mediterranean, however, you could see a much larger variety of herons and other waterbirds. In the last five years however, it has been possible to find no less than seven species of heron breeding in the UK, and Spoonbill has also colonised. White Storks and Glossy Ibis have become regular visitors, at least on migration. How this change came about, and the implications for the past and future of Britains’ fauna, is the subject of this article.

Monday, 6 August 2012

New Arrival: Macho monkeys

Male Drill
In every book on primates there will be a picture of the insanely coloured mandrill, Mandrillus sphinx. With its vividly coloured face and rear end, it always attracts attention (and giggles from the kids). Not nearly as likely to be shown is its less vividly coloured northern relative, the Drill, Mandrillus leucophaeus. Two of the latter have just arrived at Bristol, and are the first monkeys a visitor to Bristol will encounter. Drills in general body size are comparable to Mandrills, but instead of the blue and red face of Mandrills, the have a black face with a white chin, set off with what looks like pink lipstick. The anogenital region is coloured in muted red and purple, instead of the matching blue and scarlet of the Mandrill. As the largest of the Old World monkeys, Mandrillus sp, especially males, have a great presence and give the impression of a calculating intelligence as they view visitors and their surroundings.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Miscellaneous Mammals 7: The Kowari

Just gone on show in Twilight World is the first marsupial we have had for several years: the Kowari Dasyuroides byrnei. It is a fairly typical member of the Dasyuridae, the diverse family of marsupial carnivores whose largest living member is the famous Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisi. Most members of the family are shrew to rat-sized, but the various species of Quoll grow to about the size of a domestic cat. Unfortunately, with the introduction of true cats into Australia, plus other predators and competitors, has been very bad news for the dasyurids, and most are considered at least Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Turtles 9: New Arrival

Just gone on show in one of the pools in the Reptile House is one of the rarest and most endangered of all turtles, the Roti Island Snake-Necked Turtle, Chelodina mccordi. Originating from an island near New Guinea, it was only split from the more widespread New Guinea Snake-Necked Turtle in 1994. Sadly, collection for the international pet trade for this endemic species has placed it on the Critically Endangered list, and today it is only known from a few sites on the island with a total area of 70km2.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Turacos 4: Violet Turaco

Last of the three turaco species we have at Bristol is perhaps the most beautifully coloured of all, the Violet Turaco Musphaga violacea. With a home range of over 2 million square kilometres north of the Gulf of Guinea, stretching from Guines in the west to Nigeria in the east, it is not currently considered threatened – in fact it is locally common in some areas. Further east all across Africa south to Botswana it is replaced by the similar, but even more impressive, Ross’ Turaco, M. rossae.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Turacos 3: Red-Crested Turaco

The other member of the ‘typical’ green turaco genus Tauraco that we have at Bristol is the Red-Crested or Angolan Turaco, Tauraco erythrolophus. With a range extending through most of West and Central Angola, and a reasonably high, but declining, population, it is currently listed by the IUCN as a Least Concern species. Given ongoing deforestation in its range, the risk of populations become locally extinct or fragmented must however be quite high. It is very similar to the Endangered Bannerman’s Turaco, which is found much further north in Cameroon. Bannerman’s Turaco may have as few as 1500 adults left, and it is now only found in a few fragments of forest, most of its original habitat having been felled for farmland.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Turacos Part 2: Fischer's Turaco

Living in coastal forest from northern Tanzania to southern Somalia is one of the most spectacularly coloured birds in Africa, Fischer’s Turaco Tauraco fisheri. Unfortunately, as a result of habitat loss from deforestation, capture for the pet trade, and some hunting, it is one of the world’s more threatened birds, with an estimated population of under 10,000 and possibly as few as 3,000. As a result, the IUCN Red List puts it in the Near Threatened category. The population in Somalia, where perhaps under 50 birds remain as a result of forest clearance, is particularly threatened and likely to die out in the near future.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Turacos Part 1

Great Blue Turaco
Living in woodland areas all over Africa from primary rainforest to wooded savannah are at least 23 species of more or lesss chicken-sized, usually brightly coloured, birds belonging to the family Musophagidae. Commonly called Turacos, some species are called Go-Away-Birds after their call, or Plantain Eaters. At Bristol we currently have three species, and the next few posts will cover each of them.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dinosaurs at Bristol Zoo

I should make a mention of the summer season exhibition we have at Bristol Zoo – a selection of life size animatronic dinosaurs and related events until the end of August.

As you enter there is a children’s activity tent where the smaller kids can play at excavating bones and identifying the bones of a thecodontosaurus (these are resin copies with built in magnets they can affix to a board). For the older kids there is a dinosaur lab with people from the Bristol Dinosaur Project (for their website, see ).

We have 10 different dinosaurs in total, plus a (partly assembled) Dimetrodon to show how the mechanics work. The models move, make noises, and in some cases scare small children, but so far it seems a great success. The species we have as you progress round the zoo are these:

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Conservation lecture: Ultraviolet vision in mammals

How good is his camouflage?
I have not posted for a while on the monthly conservation lectures we have at Bristol, but this week’s one was too interesting not to share. It was given by Professor Ron Douglas, who is Professor of Visual Science at City University, London, and was on the often misunderstood nature of colour vision and ultraviolet perception in mammals.

First, a brief outline of how colour vision works. Vertebrates have two types of light sensitive cells in the retina of the eye. Rod cells respond to more or less all frequencies of light, and when a photoreceptor cell is struck by a photon a chemical reaction occurs which generates a nerve impulse to the visual centres of the brain. Rod cells are more sensitive, and are used for vision in low light levels. However, they cannot respond differently to different frequencies, and so enable colour vision. This is carried out by the other cells, called cone cells, which occur in several varieties each containing a receptor pigment that only responds to a specific range of frequencies, from short wavelengths (= blue or UV light) through to long wavelengths (= red or infrared light). They are not tuned to a single wavelength, but have a peak absorption in different parts of the spectrum. The brain interprets the different strength of response from different cone cells to distinguish colours.

Monday, 4 June 2012

A Balkan invader

At around the same time the marshes of Britain were echoing to the bellows of fighting aurochs, a bird that would be an astronomically mega tick for a birder was nesting in fens across southern Britain from the Somerset levels to what would one day be called Norfolk. Today the Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus is found no closer to the UK than the Balkans, but from the Neolithic almost to Roman times it was a regular part of the British avifauna. How and why it ceased to be a British bird is something of a mystery, but the ecological requirements of the species today offers some clues.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The rise and fall (and resurrection?) of the Aurochs

Skeleton of an Aurochs
With the extinction of the mammoth and straight-tusked elephants of Europe only two really large bodied herbivores remained, the Wisent or European Bison (Bison bonasus) and the Aurochs Bos primigenius. Although Wisent reached the coast of France just as the climate warmed, they apparently never occurred in Britain in post-glacial times and the few thousand individuals surviving today have a distinctly southern and eastern distribution. For most of Europe the role of top herbivore was played by the Aurochs.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The changing ecology of Britain - Part 1

Hand axe from Boxgrove
Since the end of the last glaciation around 10,000 years ago, the environment of Britain has been transformed repeatedly by both natural and man-made alterations. New species have colonised, thrived, and become extinct, sometimes repeatedly, as alterations in climate, especially summer temperatures and rainfall, have made the British Isles suitable for one species and less so for others. Human predation has removed some species, especially large carnivores, but farming and forestry has also created new kinds of habitats which some species have exploited with great success. This series will cover some of those changes, and both the losers and the gainers in the changing face of Britain.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

News you may have missed

As a break from series focussing on the animals on display, here are some news items that probably did not make the front page of your paper. For the full stories and more, check out the conservation links on the right.

Mauritius Wildlife Foundation:

Rodrigues Fruit Bat
MWF has saved most of the surviving bird species of Mauritius, home of the dodo, and is now working on environmental restoration of the pre-discovery habitats on Mauritius and the related island of Rodrigues. For more news check out their website.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Turtles 8: It swam with Dinosaurs

Young C.inscuplta
The last of Bristol Zoo’s chelonians (for now) is perhaps the strangest freshwater turtle in the world, the Fly River or Pig-nosed Turtle, Carettochelys insculpta. Now known only from Papua New Guinea and parts of northern Australia, it is the last survivor of an ancient turtle lineage related to the more familiar soft-shell turtles Trionyx, and which was once found all over the world. The family dates back to the early Cretaceous, but became progressively restricted in distribution after the end of the age of dinosaurs and it has probably been restricted to its current range since the start of the Pliocene.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 7: the (no longer) Egyptian Tortoise

Baby T.kleinemanni
For many years Bristol has had on show one of the world’s smallest tortoises, the Egyptian or Kleineman’s Tortoise Testudo kleinemanni. Despite its’ name, sadly it is no longer found in Egypt itself, and is classed as Critically Endangered in the wild.

Threats to tortoises I have described in previous posts have mainly been from habitat destruction and collection for food. With T.kleinemanni the situation is different, as practically the entire cause of its current dire situation is collection for the pet trade.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 6: Giant Pond Turtle

Orlitia borneensis
A new addition to Bristol Zoos’ collection of turtles this year is a pair of one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, the Giant Pond Terrapin Orlitia borneensis. With a shell length of 80cm and a maximum weight of 50kg (or as much as Cheryl Cole as the sign somewhat ungallantly puts it) this species is an impressive sight. As you might guess from the specific name, it is found in Borneo, but its range extends through Sumatra and through peninsula Malaya as well.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 5: Black Marsh Turtle

The aquatic chelonians I have been discussing so far all belong to a single family, the Geoemydidae. This is the most diverse of all living groups of turtles, with over 70 different species in 23 genera. The centre of distribution of the family is in south east Asia, with outliers in Europe and North Africa (the European Mauremys species), and a separate group in Central and South America (the Neotropical Wood Turtles Rhinoclemmys). Almost all of them are highly aquatic, and even the more terrestrial forms tend to prefer damp habitats. Despite this, they are generally believed to be close to the fully terrestrial tortoises such as the Aldabra Giant Tortoise and its smaller relatives. The age of the group is not clear, but it probably dates back to the late Cretaceous.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 4: Annam Leaf Turtle

M.annamensis adult
One of the peculiar features of the fauna and flora of Europe is that many of their closest relatives live in eastern Asia, with a vast gap in between with no connecting forms. This is a signal of the geological and climate events that have effected Eurasia, including the uplifting of the Himalaya following the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia, and above all the glaciations of the last few million years. In Europe the main mountain chains are aligned east-west, creating roadblocks to the migration of species north and south in response to climate change, whereas in eastern Asia mountain chains tend to be aligned north-south. As a result, while glaciations caused repeated extinctions in Europe, their Asian relatives managed to survive.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 3: Boxed into a corner

One of the most serious conservation issues today is the catastrophic decline in recent years of the various species of turtle to be found in south-east Asia. Turtles have been used for local consumption for many years, but urbanisation (which destroys habitat), agricultural development, pollution, and above all over collection from the wild for the expanding food markets of China has placed all of them on the critical list. Many species are in fact only known from specimens found in food markets, and probably have very restricted ranges if they still survive at all.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 2: Not just on Galapagos

Female D. dussimieri, Bristol
Today, when the phrase giant tortoise is heard, people immediately think of the giant tortoises of the Galapagos. That group of species however is just the largest surviving group of species in a world which once had giant tortoises almost everywhere, from South America to Southeast Asia. Away from the Galapagos, the largest tortoises alive today are the African Spurred Tortoise, Geochelone sulcata, a mainland species that can grow to 90cm long and a weight of 90kg, and the giant tortoises we have at Bristol, a group of seven Aldabra Giant Tortoises Dipsochelys dussumieri.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Turtles and Tortoises 1: The Pancake Tortoise

This series of posts will be about one of the most famous groups of reptiles, the chelonians, variously referred to as turtles, tortoises or terrapins. Although they are subdivided into various taxonomic groups, these do not actually correlate with the various English names. In American English, they are almost all referred to as turtles. In British English, the names differ by habitat – tortoise is used to refer to terrestrial animals, turtle to marine forms, and terrapin to freshwater animals. Why we have so many names is unclear, as there are currently no breeding populations of any chelonian native to Britain. Any terrapins seen in the UK are invariably released pets, usually Trachemys scripta, the Red-eared Terrapin. In the past the European Pond Terrapin, Emys orbicularis, was resident in the UK but became extinct as a result of a change to a colder climate many thousands of years ago.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

New Arrivals: Brown-breasted Barbet

Brown-breasted Barbet
If you walk past the Black-Cheeked lovebird aviary you will see they are now sharing it with a pair of very distinctive looking birds with red heads and very large bills. These are a pair of Brown-breasted Barbets, Lybius melanopterus. They are one of 43 species of barbets and tinkerbirds that span the African continent from south of the Sahara, where they live in a variety of habitats from thick jungle where they spend time in the canopy to the open scrub where some species prefer the ground. Likewise their diets are just as varied as their habitat; birds of the forests prefer fruits where some species in scrub areas may primarily consume termites and ants


Friday, 2 March 2012

New World Primates 9: They came by night

The last of the New World primates we have at Bristol can be found in Twilight World. The Grey-legged Dourocouli, Aotus griseimembra, belongs to a widespread group of monkeys which have, uniquely for higher primates, become nocturnal. There are of course numerous nocturnal primates in the Old World, incuding the bush babies of Africa, lorises of Asia, and many lemurs in Madagascar, but they all belong to a group generally referred to as the Strepsirrhine primates. These are distinguished from monkeys and apes, the ‘higher’ or Haplorrhine primates, by features of their face and skeleton, most obviously the moist, dog-like noses and tendency to rely more on scent and less on vision.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

New World Primates 8: Paging the wicked witch

Male White-faced Saki
On one of the islands in the central lake live a family of one of the most distinctive of South American primates, the White-faced Saki Pithecia pithecia.The local name for these monkeys sounds like they would be more at home in the Wizard of Oz – they are called flying monkeys because of their prodigious jumps (up to 10m have been recorded). In the wild they have a wide distribution through the rainforests of South America, so they are listed by the IUCN as of Least Concern. Most of its closest relatives are also in reasonably good shape, although one, the Buffy Saki Pithecia albicans, is listed as Vulnerable.

Friday, 17 February 2012

New World Primates 7: Love Monkeys

It is a few days late, but it is appropriate that Valentine’s week should feature one of the most closely affectionate of the monkeys, the Red Titi Callicebus cupreus. Bristol currently has a pair, but people often walk past their enclosure because they are also among the most secretive of monkeys. Their preferred habitat is dense tangles of vines, edge forests, bamboo groves and similar habitats, where they can go about their lives undisturbed. Unlike many other species, they avoid other primates and do not move around in mixed associations, instead pursuing their lives in small family groups of a pair plus up to three offspring.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

New World Primates 6: Howling for help

One of the South American monkeys Bristol has been most successful with is one of the most resonant voices of the rainforest, the howler monkey. The IUCN red list has a total of thirteen different species, which are found from Central America as far south as Argentina, wherever there is suitable forest. The species we have at Bristol is more or less the only one likely to be seen outside a South American zoo, the Black and Gold Howler Alouatta caraya. They get their name from the sexual dimorphism in the species – adult males are jet black while females and juveniles are golden brown.

Female A.caraya

Saturday, 4 February 2012

New World Primates 5: Squirrel Monkeys

On one of the islands in the lake can be found our group of a very familiar, but little understood, small monkey, the South American Squirrel monkey Saimiri sciureus. Squirrel monkeys are widely spread throughout central and South American rainforests, but until recently it was thought that there were only two species, The South American S.sciureus and the Central American S.oerstedti. More recent work has elevated some subspecies to specific status, and identified other new forms, with the result that there are now considered to be at least five species, some of which themselves may contain several subspecies.

Friday, 27 January 2012

New World Primates 4: Brown Spider Monkey

As you enter the zoo, the first large enclosure you encounter contains two young male Brown Spider Monkeys, Ateles hybridus. This Critically Endangered monkey originates from Columbia, where it lives in an ever decreasing area of primary rainforest.

Spider monkeys can be thought of as the ecological equivalents of the apes (especially the gibbons) of the Old World – large bodied fruit eaters with complicated societies. They spend almost all their time high in the canopy on a continuous search for fruit of numerous species, and are very important seed dispersers as a result. In hard times they may also eat leaves, some insects, or even decaying wood, but without an extensive variety of fruiting trees they cannot survive for long.