Three litters of wildcat kittens, with more expected in the coming weeks, will be the first of the species to be released into the wild in Britain.
The kittens were born at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park as part of the Saving Wildcats breeding for release programme.
Saving Wildcats conservation manager David Barclay said: “Put simply, these kittens are the future of wildcats in Scotland.
“Decades of extensive research have shown their species is highly likely to go extinct in Britain if we do not carry out releases to restore our critically endangered wildcat population.”
Eight kittens have been born so far, after 16 wildcats were paired up to conserve the species, and the wildcats will be released into the Cairngorms National Park, in specially selected locations.
Dr Helen Senn, head of conservation and science at RZSS, commented on the initiative: “Wildcats are Scotland's most iconic animal but sadly also one of our most endangered.
“Habitat loss, hunting and inter-breeding with domestic cats have all taken their toll, leaving this incredible species on the brink of extinction.
“Fortunately, our Saving Wildcats team, partners and many other wonderful supporters are working together to restore wildcats in the Highlands.
“Planning is underway for the first releases in 2023, which will be subject to receiving a translocation license.
“This enormously collaborative effort includes our dedicated keepers caring for the cats in the centre, the field team carefully assessing the suitability of potential release sites, and national and international experts sharing best practice and their experience of breeding a whole range of species for release in conservation projects across the globe.”
Commenting on how the wildcat kittens are progressing so far, David Barclay added: “It is still early days for our new wildcat kittens who are very vulnerable in their first weeks and months.
“They have a lot to learn over the next year, but our expert Saving Wildcats keepers will be on hand to help prepare them for the many challenges of life in the wild.
“We have a very hands-off approach with the cats to give them the best possible chance of survival after release.
“This means we are only able to monitor the kittens on remote cameras at the moment, though we have been able to confirm there are at least eight kittens from three litters so far and hope there will be more to follow in the coming weeks.”
Three-month-old Msituni can now stand and walk properly.
Msituni, born at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, was discovered to have a hyperextension of the carpi which meant that her front legs could not bend properly.
Despite never having worked with wildlife before, the San Diego Hanger Clinic team, who provide orthotic and prosthetic care for people, created a custom care plan for Msituni.
Ara Mirzaian from Hangar Clinic commented on the experience: “I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
“I’ve never worked with wildlife before—it’s one of those things that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Using custom-moulded carbon graphite, the team made orthotic braces for Msituni using cast mouldings of her legs. Soon, the calf was fitted with her leg braces which also featured a giraffe pattern.
Matt Kinney DVM, senior veterinary surgeon at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, said: “We are so glad to have the resources and expertise to step in and provide this young calf the opportunity for a full life.
“Without these lifesaving braces to provide support, the position of her legs would have become increasingly more painful and progressed to a point she would not have been able to overcome.”
Msituni not only had hyperextension of the carpi, she also had abnormalities in her blood and her back legs had irregular positioning. The wildlife team treated her with intravenous antibiotics and specialised hoof extenders.
Msituni's treatment was a success, she no longer needs leg braces, has stopped receiving antibiotics and her back legs are now positioned correctly. The youngster has now been reintroduced to the rest of the herd to bond with them.
All images (C) San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Experts will share recent developments in this rapidly-evolving field.
International experts are set to gather in Edinburgh for the fifth European Conservation Genetics Meeting, taking place across three days in September (August 30 – September 1).
Hosted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), it is the first time the meeting will be held in the UK - and the first time it has taken place since 2015.
The event will see experts from across Europe and beyond share recent developments in conservation genetics, the study of which is contributing to the conservation of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife.
A rapidly evolving field, scientists hope that by understanding the genetic diversity within a population, they can define what they are working with and how best to protect it.
Dr Kara Dicks, a researcher at RZSS WildGenes, Edinburgh Zoo, commented: "Our planet is facing an extinction crisis, so now more than ever, we are looking forward to hosting an in-person global event to learn and share vital information. By coming together to share our expertise and experience in designing genetic tools, we can protect species around the world and help secure a future for wildlife.”
Dr Emily Humble, a research fellow in conservation genomics at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and The Roslin Institute, added: “This is the first time the European Conservation Genetics Meeting has happened in the UK, and we're really excited to welcome everyone to the wonderful city of Edinburgh.”
The event is taking place both in-person and online. For more information about the conference and to register, visit consgen.org
The BSAVA has announced a new collection of resources to help veterinary professionals treat hedgehogs in practice.
Published to coincide with Hedgehog Awareness Week (1-7 May), the collection includes various materials from Companion, BSAVA Congress and the BSAVA Manual of Wildlife Casualties. Topics range from hand-rearing to anaesthesia to relevant legal questions, covering hedgehogs and wildlife casualties in general.
Liz Mullineaux, senior vice president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society, and editor of the BSAVA Manual of Wildlife Casualties commented: “Hedgehogs are the most common mammalian wildlife casualty seen by veterinary surgeons. Those caring for these animals have very variable knowledge and look to vets for appropriate help, advice, and clinical care.
“It’s therefore really important that vets and vet nurses in practice have some good information about hedgehogs to hand. As well as knowing about clinical conditions, a broader understanding of wildlife rehabilitation is essential. This collection provides those in practice with an excellent 'hedgehog resource'.
Organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Hedgehog Awareness Week is an annual event that aims to highlight the plight of hedgehogs and how people can help them.
The collection can be accessed via the BSAVA Library at £20.00 for BSAVA members or £45.00 for non-members.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) is celebrating its 40th anniversary over this year's Hedgehog Awareness Week (1 – 7 May 2022).
In celebration of its landmark anniversary, the charity is asking members of the public to 'grant some hedgehoggy birthday wishes', to support the UK's hedgehog population.
Some suggestions the charity has provided are making hedgehog highways in fences, creating square gaps in the bottom of fences or walls to allow hedgehogs to pass through, creating an undisturbed log pile to provide shelter and food for hedgehogs and building a hedgehog home.
Other ideas the charity has offered for celebration include leaving out water and meaty dog or cat food, checking carefully before mowing or strimming, ditching pesticides and poisons, ensuring that all ponds and pools have a way for hedgehogs to easily get out, creating a wild corner in the garden and joining the BHPS.
In a news release, the charity shared the heartwarming story of its founding: “It all began when Adrian (Major Adrian Coles MBE) found a hedgehog in a cattle grid on his land; he rescued it using a saucepan and then realised that if there hadn’t been a Major on hand with kitchenalia, the hedgehog would not have survived!
“He used his position as a County Councillor at the time to get Shropshire Council to install escape ramps in all its grids.
“The resulting publicity was so vast that he realised there was a great appetite to help the humble hedgehog in the UK; and so, the Society was founded.”
Fay Vass, chief executive of BHPS, commented: “Hedgehogs are struggling and mostly that’s due to human activity; these small actions can help a great deal - a little effort from each of us could make life a lot easier for hedgehogs!
“If you don’t have a garden yourself, you can still help by contacting public space managers, neighbours, family and friends to ensure they are doing their bit.”
British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Justine Shotton has welcomed a new Bill banning rodent glue traps, which passed its Third Reading in Parliament on Monday (26 April).
The new Glue Traps (Offences) Bill follows a campaign by the BVA and a host of animal protection organisations to see an end to the use of these traps, which can cause immense suffering to animals, including pets and other wildlife.
Ms Shotton said: “We welcome the news that this bill has passed its third reading and will mean that these cruel glue traps can no longer be used by the general public.
“Along with other animal protection and research organisations, we campaigned for a ban on the widespread use of these traps, which do not kill a trapped animal immediately and can lead to hours of agony and suffering, so are pleased this will be put into motion.”
Having passed its final reading, the Bill will now go for Royal Assent, meaning the general public can no longer use the traps. However, Ms Shotton expressed concern that it still enables pest controllers to apply for licences.
“We are disappointed that this new Bill falls short of an outright ban and only puts restrictions on the general public,” she said. “We are keen to see the greater detail of the licensing scheme as we are concerned that, as the pest control industry is shockingly still unregulated, anyone calling themselves a ‘pest controller’ will be able to gain a licence and continue to use these traps in an irresponsible way.
“It’s also crucial that if these licences are granted, that enforced user training and strict rules around monitoring the traps are also implemented to ensure no trapped animals are subjected to prolonged suffering and non-target animals are freed quickly.”
On Indonesia's Sumatra Island, three critically endangered Sumatran tigers have been found dead, as reported by Associated Press (AP).
Local police chief in the East Aceh district of Aceh province, Hendra Sukmana, said that a female and a male tiger were found dead yesterday (24 April) with leg injuries caused by a snare trap.
Another female tiger was found dead a few hours later 550 yards away, with a snare embedded in her neck and legs, which were almost severed.
Snare traps are commonly used on Sumatra island by farmers to catch wild boar, which are considered disruptive pests. Sukmana said that the authorities have appealed to the community and to plantation companies to not set snares in forest areas.
Sumatran tigers are the most critically endangered subspecies of tiger, with fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers estimated to remain in the wild. Under Indonesia's Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems law, anyone who intentionally kills a protected animal would face a fine of 100 million rupiah, and up to five years in prison.
Agus Arianto, who heads the conservation agency in Aceh, told AP that an autopsy was underway to determine the causes of the tigers' death.
Arianto said: “We strongly condemned this incident and will cooperate with law enforcement agencies in an investigation.”
Wildlife populations used by humans for food, medicine and livelihoods are declining at a much faster rate than those that are not, according to new research.
The global study led by Zoological Society London (ZSL) found that populations of mammals, birds and fish 'utilised' by humans for fishing or hunting declined by 50 per cent on average between 1970 and 2016.
Researchers warn that if this decreasing trend continues, the plethora of pressures will become entirely unsustainable, threatening not only the existence of valuable species but also the lives of millions of local people who rely on them.
Louise McRae, lead author and ZSL researcher, said: “We know that the human use of wildlife can pose a threat to biodiversity if done unsustainably, but this is the first time we have quantified these impacts at the global scale. It is significant because not only are we losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, many people around the world also rely directly on wildlife for their livelihoods.
“The declines revealed in our study show that current levels of exploitation of wildlife may be unsustainable, but where management strategies are in place, dual benefits can be seen for both wildlife and people, so there are solutions that work.”
The study, published in One Earth, used data from scientific papers and reports of 2,944 species from seven continents - 1,348 of which were highlighted as 'utilised' by humans for hunting, fishing or collecting.
Among the worst affected species are those from tropical regions in Africa, terrestrial and freshwater species in the Americas, and marine populations from Asia-Pacific.
The zoo recently started caring for the endangered species again.
A baby cotton-top tamarin has been born at Chester Zoo, a cause for celebration for conservation of the species, which is critically endangered.
The baby, born to parents Treat and Leo, is reportedly being cared for excellently by its parents, and is the first cotton-top tamarin to be born at Chester Zoo in 22 years.
Siobhan Ward, primate keeper at the zoo, commented on the new arrival: “We strongly suspected that the mother, Treat, was pregnant from regular monitoring of her weight and seeing her belly swell.
“But it was a fantastic surprise nonetheless to see a tiny little ball of fluff clinging onto her back one morning!
“The baby is far too tiny and a bit early on to determine gender at the moment. Both parents will carry the baby for around the next six months – but it’s actually dad who’s been doing most of the carrying so far, passing it to mum for feeds while he stays protectively close by. Both Treat and Leo have taken to parenthood brilliantly.
“It’s incredibly special to be able to see the little one so soon after its birth and after opening its eyes for the first time to take in the world.”
Native to a small area in northern Colombia, only five per cent of the cotton-top tamarin's original habitat remains intact due to mass deforestation, and only 2,000 of the primates exist in the wild.
Also a huge threat to the creatures, the illegal wildlife trade continues to be interested in cotton-top tamarins and their unique look.
Nick Davis, deputy curator of mammals at the zoo, explained: “The cotton-top tamarin is an exquisite animal but sadly it's one of the most endangered primate species on the planet.
“It's a highly threatened species because its wild habitat has been destroyed by commercial logging for the agriculture, paper and timber industries, and these miniature monkeys are also regularly found in the illegal wildlife trade.”
“It wasn’t that long ago that these miniature primates were seen as quite a common species, so their dramatic demise over the last few years shows just how a species thought to be safe can change so rapidly.
Due to their complex social and environmental needs, cotton-top tamarins should never be kept as pets. They’re highly intelligent animals that can live for around 25 years when safe in zoos.”
Images (C) Chester Zoo
Meerkats and gorillas enjoyed egg hunts and snacks.
Animals at ZSL London Zoo have been enjoying some Easter festivities, as zookeepers held Easter egg hunts for the meerkats and gorillas.
Keepers decorated papier-mâché eggs with bright paint and eye-catching designs, before filling them with treats for the zoo's meerkats to find.
Meerkats Frank, Dracula, Penelope and Meko climbed, stretched and explored to discover the treat-filled eggs hidden around the sandy rocks in their enclosure, and they certainly seemed to enjoy the surprise.
It wasn't only the meerkats that got involved with some Easter celebrations – vegetable-filled Easter piñatas were hung about around the Western lowland gorillas' enclosure for Mjukuu, Alika and Gernot to discover.
“The gorillas loved tearing into their colourful Easter piñatas in search of snacks,” said Dan Simmonds, head zookeeper at ZSL London Zoo. But despite there being plenty to go round, the meerkats were eggstremely protective over their festive hoard - something that other families might find familiar this Sunday!”
Images (C) ZSL London Zoo
A post-mortem revealed discolouration and cloudy fluid around the brain.
A rare shark found stranded on a beach in Cornwall had meningitis, scientists have confirmed, in what is considered to be the first account of the disease in the species.
The female Greenland shark was temporarily stranded outside Newlyn Harbour in March and is thought to have lived to around 100 years old.
Researchers say the discovery explains why the shark was out of her natural deep-water habitat, but stress there is not enough evidence to connect the death with any human impacts on the oceans.
“During the post-mortem examination, the brain did look slightly discoloured and congested and the fluid around the brain was cloudy, raising the possibility of infection,” commented James Barnett, a veterinary pathologist from the Cornwall Marine Pathology team. “This was then confirmed on microscopic examination of the brain (histopathology). A species of Pasteurella, a bacteria, was isolated from the fluid and this may well have been the cause of the meningitis.
He continued: “The shark’s body was in poor condition and there were signs of haemorrhage within the soft tissue around the pectoral fins which, coupled with the silt found in her stomach, suggested she may well have live stranded. As far as we’re aware, this is one of the first post-mortem examinations here in the UK of a Greenland shark and the first account of meningitis in this species.”
The post-mortem formed part of ZSL’s Cetacean Stranding Investigate Programme (CSIP), which coordinates the investigation of all cetaceans, marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline.
Rob Deaville, CSIP project lead, said: “This unfortunate and extraordinary stranding has allowed us to get an insight into the life and death of a species we know little about. Discovering that this shark had meningitis is likely a world’s first, but the significance of this in terms of any wider stressors is unknown.
“Ultimately, like most marine life, deep-sea species such as Greenland sharks may also be impacted by human pressures on the ocean but there is not enough evidence at this stage to make any connections.”
Greenland sharks reside in the deep waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans up to 2,647 meters below the surface. The species is considered to be very mysterious, with some individuals described as having the potential to live to over 400 years old.
The team is expected to publish a paper further detailing their findings in due course.
The spiders will be helping people to cure arachnophobia.
ZSL London Zoo has welcomed regal jumping spiders to its Tiny Giants exhibit, and these distinctive creatures will be helping arachnophobes overcome their fear in the zoo's Friendly Spider Programme.
Dave Clarke, London Zoo's head of invertebrates, said: “At just 22mm regal jumping spiders may be small, but are very cute as they have recognisable ‘face’ with forward pointing eyes and some of the best vision in the spider world.”
These spiders, hailing from the southeastern United States and the West Indies, can jump 10cm forward from a standing start by suddenly flexing the muscles in their legs. They are also known for their courtship dance, which the male regal jumping spiders do to attract a mate.
The spiders have arrived in time for participants of the zoo's Friendly Spider Programme to meet them, in their quest to overcome a fear of spiders. The programme, which runs periodically, teaches participants all about spiders, squashes myths, and gives them a chance to practice catching spiders.
“We’ve made it our mission to quash as many myths about spiders as possible and help people overcome their phobia, converting spider-squishers into bug lovers through our world-leading Friendly Spider Programme – and I think these cute new arrivals are going to be a big help,” said Dave Clarke.
“As well as helping to alleviate a phobia that can seriously impact your day-to-day life, the Friendly Spider Programme has directly supported wildlife conservation projects for invertebrates, including the successful reintroduction of the native semi-aquatic Fen raft spider.
“This species is listed as threatened in the UK, but the fen raft spider’s range is now increasing thanks to conservation efforts.”
Images (C) ZSL London Zoo
Two veterinary surgeons have successfully completed the Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra, raising money to save the rhino from extinction.
David Abratt and John Beel raised more than £3,200 travelling through rivers, lakes and forests and crossing the arctic circle twice over the duration of the course.
Trekking 185km of snow and ice in Swedish Lapland from 6 – 16 March, the veterinary surgeons managed to complete the gruelling course.
David Abratt commented on their experience: “When we first arrived, we undertook a compulsory cold weather survival course. Without it, we’d have struggled, and likely become icicles once out on the course!
“We had some lovely crisp sunny days of -5 degrees but, on others, and at night, temperatures could drop to -20 with windchill. The snow was something else! Literally hip to chest deep in some places and, if you stepped in the wrong place, it was difficult to get out.
“Physically the event was tough and relentless. We completed each day usually between midnight and 1am, then had to set up camp - a mission in itself in the freezing conditions. Then we were up at 5.30 am to do it all again!”
John Beel said: “As an unsupported race, the only contact we had with officials was for the mandatory medical checks. Primarily, they were to check for frost bite injury but, more importantly, they were a source of hot chocolate - a small blessing!
“We had the usual long distance or endurance niggles, like muscle and joint pain, but a new one on us was ‘crackies’, a cold weather injury in which cracks develop in the skin of the extremities, like finger tips. It is incredibly painful.
“Despite this, we managed to complete the course and, while we weren’t anywhere near the front of the pack, the feeling of accomplishment on completing the race put a smile on our faces that was difficult to wipe off!”
Donations can still be made to John and David's fundraising page here.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has welcomed the publication of a new study exploring the role of badger culling in reducing bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in England.
Published in Vet Record, the paper uses a variety of statistical approaches to compare herd incidence and prevalence data from within and outside high-risk badger culling areas. It also compares the change in incidence across ten county areas for the period 2010–2020.
Researchers found that a decline in incidence and prevalence of bTB could be linked to the introduction of cattle-based disease control measures in that same time period. However, the paper acknowledges the limitations of the data used for this analysis.
Responding to the findings, BVA senior vice president James Russell said: “As an evidence-based profession, we welcome any new data or research that sheds light on bovine TB control.
“Our own policy position recognises the need for ongoing analysis in what is a scientifically complex field and supports a holistic approach that makes use of all the tools in the toolbox to tackle this devastating chronic disease.”
"As the paper clearly acknowledges, there are limitations to the data used by the authors. We are also aware that Defra’s analysis of the research offers a different perspective. We will be reviewing the new research in order to draw our own conclusions on the robustness of the analysis and any implications for our policy."
Mr Russell adds: "As with all our policy decisions, BVA will take this opportunity to review and consider all new and emerging research to ensure our recommendations reflect the latest, scientifically rigorous evidence.”
BVA’s policy on bovine TB control and eradication, which includes controls in cattle, building on the strong vet-farmer relationship, and rewarding farmers for good biosecurity, is available at bva.co.uk
The e-petition gained over 106,000 signatures.
On Monday 21 March 2022, MPs will debate an e-petition relating to badger culling, 'Ban the shooting of badgers immediately'.
Started by animal welfare organisation Wild Justice, the petition has gained over 106,000 signatures.
The petition states: “Shooting of Badgers is licensed by Natural England as part of the DEFRA Badger cull. 24,000+ Badgers were shot in 2019.
“Shooting is poorly monitored and Wild Justice believes it has never met the animal welfare standards recommended by a 2014 Independent Expert Panel, whose recommendations were accepted by DEFRA. This method of culling is inhumane and should be banned immediately.”
In its response, the Government said: “Natural England carries out compliance monitoring and ensures that each cull company has suitable arrangements and plans in place to carry out an operation that is safe, effective and humane.
“NE’s Chief Scientist advised that marksmen continued to show high levels of discipline and compliance with the Best Practice Guide in 2019.
“The level of accuracy of controlled shooting continued to compare favourably with the range of outcomes when other control activities, currently accepted by society, have been assessed.”
Taking place in Westminster Hall from 4.30pm, the debate will be opened by Nick Fletcher MP, and Jo Churchill MP will respond for the Government.
Lasting for up to 90 minutes, the debate will be available to view live on Parliament TV and YouTube.
Researchers aim to pinpoint key genes associated with resistance.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have launched a study to identify genes that could make Atlantic salmon resistant to sea lice.
Sea lice are parasites that severely affect fish health and welfare and cost the worldwide aquaculture industry around £800 million each year.
In this new study, researchers aim to pinpoint key genes and associated biological processes underlying genetic resistance to these parasites.
The scientists will examine the response to lice attachment exhibited by coho salmon, a species of salmon which is fully resistant to sea lice, and then apply this knowledge to Atlantic salmon, which is susceptible.
To do this, they will use data previously collected from 12,000 infected fish to identify regions of the salmon genome associated with resistance to sea lice. They will also compare Atlantic salmon with coho salmon to study the essential mechanisms, genes and proteins involved in their different responses to lice.
Through studies assessing the effects of silencing genes of interest, scientists will use gene editing to validate and select genes and processes that may be related to resistance.
The research will initially be conducted in fish cells to identify the genes most likely involved in lice resistance. The team will then target these genes to produce gene-edited salmon embryos.
Professor Ross Houston, personal chair of aquaculture genetics at the Roslin Institute, explained: “Gene editing has potential to expedite the breeding of disease-resistant salmon by making targeted changes, informed by years of research into the genetic and functional mechanisms of resistance to sea lice.
“Work by our consortium aims to improve fish health and welfare, and enhance the sustainability of the salmon aquaculture sector, which is worth approximately £1 billion per year to the UK economy and is a major source of employment in rural communities of the Scottish Highlands.”
The project is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, with £1.7 million of funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre.
James Bron, a professor of aquatic animal health at the University of Stirling, commented: “The University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture brings more than 30 years’ research into the interactions of sea lice and Atlantic salmon to this collaboration.
"Advances made in disease control for Atlantic salmon aquaculture are relevant to the culture of other key species, so developing and applying these cutting-edge technologies helps to increase aquaculture sustainability and global food security.”