Ten easy ways for your business to change the world

Published: May 1, 2018

2017 06 LC beach cleans 1What we do…
The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts and Newquay Zoo) campaigns to make the world a better place. Here are some of the things we do.
1. Marine plastic – Let’s Turn the Tide. We stopped selling single-use plastic water bottles in our zoos in order to set an example in the fight against marine plastic. There are good alternatives, such as water sold in cardboard boxes, cans and refillable bottles
2. Sustainable palm oil – Turn Over a New Leaf. We campaign for sustainable palm oil. Palm oil is important stuff – you’ve probably used it several times today without even knowing. But plantations growing palm oil and other crops destroy the rainforest habitat of orang utans and many other species. Sustainable palm oil means working with wildlife and local people
3. Native species – Nearby Nature. Our theme for 2018 is Nearby Nature, concentrating on native species in and around our zoos. There’s lots going on in between the exotic species – and a lot people can do at home to help encourage wildlife
4. Beach cleans. Living Coasts organises community beach cleans to help keep our local shoreline beautiful
5. Environmental Management System. Each of our zoos has an Environmental Management System, which means we work in as green a way as possible
6. Sustainable fish. We recommend the Good Fish Guide to ensure you’re not eating endangered species. Published by the Marine Conservation Society, it’s handy and easy-to-use
7. Marine Conservation Zones. We campaigned for and now support the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) in Torbay because it helps to balance the needs of wildlife with those of shipping, leisure and fishing
8. Seagrass beds – the hidden habitat just off our beaches. Beautiful and precious in its own right, a bed of seagrass will also be home to seahorses and other amazing wildlife. We’re propagating seagrass with the aim of possibly planting new beds in the future
9. Grab That Gap – a great green idea to which zoos all over the country have signed up. The aim is to plant small, spare plots of ground around your zoo with wild flower seeds. You’ll be able to enjoy the results when you visit one of our zoos this summer!
10. Partners. We work with partners including charities, pressure groups, councils and other zoos to make good things happen. At Living Coasts, we’ve teamed up with the Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative and we sponsor the Seaside Awards & Blue Flag scheme for Torbay

What you can do…
1. Help native species in your office garden, car park or community space – we’re talking bird boxes, insect hotels, bird feeders, bat boxes, something for hedgehogs… Look out for the Nearby Nature display in the zoo shop or come along to one of our Nearby Nature events to learn more
2. Give your staff time to join a beach clean organised by Living Coasts – it’s fun, sociable, leaves the beach looking cleaner and you with a good feeling inside! Follow this link to find out when and where the next beach clean takes place: https://www.livingcoasts.org.uk/plan-your-visit/whats-on/events/detail/Coastal-clean-ups . And if you are local to Torbay, consider joining Torbay Cleaner Coasts Initiative http://www.tcci.org.uk/
3. Start a drive to give up single-use plastic water bottles in the office – buy your staff a Paignton Zoo branded reusable bottle each for when they’re out and about. Get your customers or suppliers to join in.
4. Look out for products that use sustainable palm oil – it’s not always easy to tell, but check the label – especially the small print!
5. Buy the right teabags for your office kitchen or canteen. Many have plastic in them. Some don’t, so you can look out for these, or just use tea leaves, which is probably more economical anyway
6. Did you know, fleece clothing is made from recycled plastic bottles? That’s great! Except… the plastic microfibers end up in the sea anyway as they come out during washing – and this form of plastic is potentially more harmful that the bottle! On this basis, it’s probably best to buy uniforms and branded corporate clothing made of natural fibres – and of course, to reduce the use of other plastics so there isn’t so much that needs to be disposed of or recycled in the first place
7. Pledge to reduce the amount of energy, or water, or both, your business uses – you’ll save money and do the planet a favour.
8. Reduce your travel impact – encourage staff to car share, use public transport, walk or cycle. You’ll cut down on emissions and probably be healthier as a result. Use technology like Skype to reduce the distance staff travel to meetings
9. Procurement – an ethical purchasing policy can help reduce the harm your business does to the planet every time you buy raw materials, goods or services. Make the right choices for a green future
10. Develop an Environmental Management System (we might even be able to advise on this). This will help you think about day-to-day activities in your company and how you can reduce waste, reduce environmental impacts, enhance your environmental credentials within your business sector and inspire others to change their business practises

Rhino conservation – a dark new turn in a twisted old tale

Published: February 8, 2018

Paignton Zoo rhino by Ray Wiltshire 01The enormous increase in rhino poaching in Southern Africa over the last decade has become a threat to the survival of black rhinos and white rhinos on that continent. The poaching is driven by demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, and has been facilitated by politicians, the military and powerful businessmen throughout the continent.

Thanks to strenuous efforts by National Park authorities in many countries, the poaching has now reached a plateau, rather than continuing upwards, but any relaxation of the effort involved will probably lead to a further upsurge.

Rhino horn, which is keratin, like your fingernails, grows throughout the life of the animal, and could therefore produce an annual crop. In that sense it is, at least on paper, a sustainable product. In the mid-1990s the South African Government decided that putting a commercial value on it would encourage private landowners to keep rhinos, thus increasing the rhino populations with great conservation benefit. It worked, rhino populations in the country doubled and the South African rhino populations are now so much bigger than those elsewhere in the continent that, in a sense, they are the only ones that matter.

So, with rhino populations increased and a sustainable product available to flood the market in Asia at a price that would easily undercut the cost of wild-poached animals, why on earth has the poaching problem got worse not better? The answer lies in the nature of the demand in Asia. Rhino horn has become linked with power and prestige, not with medicine, aphrodisiacs or dagger-handles. The possession of a rhino horn is a symbol of wealth and power – all the more so if the horn is from a wild caught animal.

Nowadays, using their mobile phones to record the stages, poachers can kill rhinos to order and ensure a ‘chain of custody’ of the product to their Asian clients. Farmed or ranched rhino horn is of no interest. The reason why international authorities continue to refuse to allow a legal trade in farmed or ranched rhino horn is that it would make it too easy for criminals to hide illegal wild-caught horn among the legal.

So, the rhino ‘ranchers’ can no longer export rhino horn; some owners have up to 1500 rhinos on their properties and tons of stockpiled rhino horn, and they are starting to ask questions about what’s in it for them? Many of the rhinos live on private conservancies that make their living from hunting, not photographic, safaris. Whether we like it or not hunting makes big money, more than photo safaris, and is a good use of marginal land in Africa.

In Zimbabwe recently I heard that two of the big conservancies (and in Zimbabwe rhinos pretty much only survive in viable numbers in the private conservancies) are thinking of abandoning keeping rhinos on their properties. They make no return and the poaching threat is actually a danger to conservancy staff, so why would they go on doing it?

Rhinos encapsulate a conservation dilemma that splits African countries. There is the Southern African ‘if it pays, it stays’ utilitarian view of wildlife, which sits in contrast to the ‘preservationist’ view in Eastern Africa, e.g. Kenya, where hunting is banned.

World opinion seems to be moving against the Southern African view (see the absurd furore over Cecil the lion a couple of years ago). But a consequence of this could be the removal of wild animals, including rhinos, from private lands and a massive reduction in their populations. This cannot be a good outcome from a conservation perspective, but until the linkage of rhino horn with power and prestige in Asia is broken, it is hard to see any other result.

Simon Tonge, Executive Director, WWCT

Can a crocodile change its spots?

Published: January 16, 2018

Being in the right place at the right time to observe history in the making is not something that happens to us very often. So, when I happened to be in Zimbabwe, ostensibly to Chair a meeting of the Dambari Wildlife Trust, on the day that Robert Mugabe was deposed as President of the country, I thought I was witnessing history.
As it turns out, I was, but only in a very limited sense. What was touching to see was the overwhelming joy and relief of Zimbabweans that the old tyrant was finally gone, and their genuine belief that their lives were going to improve. Perhaps they are, but my concern over the incoming new President, the ‘Crocodile’, Emerson Mnangagwa, was that nothing, really, was going to change.
My scepticism arose while listening to the language and content of the speeches made by him and others around the time of the non-coup. It was all about the party, ZANU-PF, and the preservation of its power, not about the best interests of the country. There is nothing particularly shocking in this; our own politicians, with a few honourable exceptions, always put party loyalty ahead of the country’s interests, but it was still depressing to hear.
So, given that, for many years, the Crocodile was an intimate part of the Government that deliberately destroyed the country’s agricultural and industrial infrastructure, ostensibly on racial grounds, but actually for their own personal gain, is there any good news for conservation in Zimbabwe? Well, the short answer is, of course, that it is too early to tell.
Over the last fifteen years, poachers backed by Government officials looted the National Parks of most of their rhinos and elephants. The new President has since publically acknowledged that the Parks have a massive role to play in restoring the tourist economy so presumably that means that the poaching will stop and the country’s reputation for once having the best, and the best run, National Parks in Africa will be restored.
This, of course, means extra resourcing, and there’s the rub. The country doesn’t have any extra resources. The vast army and police force, which are neither necessary (except to keep ZANU-PF in power) nor affordable, take up much of the country’s available budget. It was a joke in Zimbabwe at the time that when the police were temporarily off the streets during the non-coup, and the army took over, the crime rate went down. Reducing the size of those forces to a point that the country can afford, without leaving large numbers of unemployed ex-soldiers with a sense of grievance and entitlement is probably not something that the new President can risk.
If the same old cabal that ruined the country has just rearranged the deck chairs, but is still in charge, then it is hard to be optimistic for the future. However, the cabal has stolen almost everything available to be stolen, so maybe the only answer is to encourage others to create more wealth before the theft can begin again. In which case a period of leaving the people of Zimbabwe to get on with their lives without Government interference might be the way forward. Some of the pronouncements from the new President seem to indicate an understanding of this truth, so maybe the Crocodile will change his spots after all?

Simon Tonge, Executive Director, WWCT

Strapwort – digging up the future

Published: January 4, 2018

strapwort-conservation-projectBlink and you’ll miss it. Corrigiola litoralis (strapwort to its friends) is a small, low-growing plant listed as Critically Endangered in the UK and legally protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981. Slapton Ley is one of only two sites in the UK where strapwort is currently recorded, the other being Loe Pool in Cornwall.

One of the reasons for the endangered status is strapwort’s fussy nature. It has a short life cycle, has adapted to germinate in areas where water levels have recently dropped (the drawdown zone), and must grow, flower and seed before the water levels rise again in the autumn. It likes open conditions and does not do well sharing its space with tall plants that tend to crowd it out.

Disturbance of the shoreline by cattle was also thought to be crucial for exposing seed for germination in the spring. This range of special requirements means things can so easily go wrong, and led to a substantial decline from the 1980s and into the early part of this century. In fact, we got to the point where there were only seven individual plants recorded at Slapton Ley.

Alongside staff from WWCT, the reserve team at Slapton Ley decided to try a different approach to the management of the habitat at one of the three locations on the Ley’s shoreline. The results were both unexpected and exciting.

The reserve team extended the site by clearing a 20 metre section, using an excavator to re-profile the shore. The new profile was designed to increase the amount of land affected by the changing levels of the Ley and thus provide potential strapwort sites.

Over the months following the clearance we observed over two thousand new strapwort plants! How did that happen? It seems the act of re-profiling activated dormant seeds in the shingle. In some parts, the level of the shore was reduced by up to 18 inches, so the seed now on the surface had been buried for a long time. The propagation of the old seed was particularly exciting, because it has the potential to be genetically diverse. This means the site could be a source of good quality viable seed for future sites.

The challenge for the reserve team now is to capitalise on this success and maintain the numbers. So if you see a digger working away this winter then this is most likely part of this work. Thank you to Natural England for the funding and to the FSC volunteers for their efforts.

Rob Kendall
Buildings and NNR Manager
Slapton Ley Field Centre www.field-studies-council.org/slaptonley

On the edge

Published: December 14, 2017

2017 08 WWCT Tracey sorbus blog 2 Watersmeet on Exmoor, Devon The beautiful oak woodlands along the coastal fringes and steep valleys of Exmoor are home to several species of whitebeam (Sorbus spp.) that are found nowhere else in the world. Exmoor is one of a number of regions in the UK well-known for their diversity of endemic Sorbus species. In the recently published Vascular Plant Red List for England, Sorbus as a genus makes up 6% of threatened plants. This is largely due to their small population sizes, sometimes only a handful of trees on one or two sites, which make them particularly susceptible to extinction. The main threats to this group are competition from invasive species such as rhododendron and holm oak, particularly on the coastal sites. Sorbus is also particularly palatable, making them attractive to browsing animals such as deer and wild goats.

They have an attraction for field botanists because of their perilous nature, both in terms of rarity but also the habitats where many of them are found. Small, twisted specimens, often of great age, may be found clinging to cliffs on geographically distant sites such as Torbay in south Devon right up to the Cairngorms and islands off the west coast of Scotland such as Arran and Rum, and west into Ireland. This makes any kind of survey work potentially hazardous – or exciting – depending on your viewpoint. The combination of dramatic location and the potential for discovering a possible new species has ensured that Sorbus has an enthusiastic following.

In addition to cliff habitats, some of the species, often those more closely related to the wild service tree S. torminalis, can be found scattered through woodland where they can struggle to compete with high canopies, preferring the woodland edges or rocky areas where the canopy is sparser. The history of woodland management on these sites may reveal the reasons behind current distributions. Many of the Exmoor woodland sites have been shaped by their history of coppice management and quarrying, so it’s probable that the shade intolerant Sorbus gained a foothold during these cycles of disturbance when intermittent open conditions enabled trees to flower and set seed in a greater capacity than today.

This genus is of particular interest to evolutionary biologists due to its tendency to throw up novel species making the genus Sorbus a taxonomic challenge. Their heritage derives from the three most common members of the genus; rowan Sorbus aucuparia, common whitebeam S. aria and the wild service tree S. torminalis. It’s known that as these three species plus a fourth, the rock whitebeam S. rupicola, colonised after the ice age. As they spread, new species arose via hybridisation events, resulting in a high level of endemism in this group.

Many of these endemic taxa are polyploid and reproduce asexually via seed (although they still need pollinating), resulting in effectively clonal populations. However, this breeding system is somewhat ‘leaky’ with offspring occasionally produced sexually, thereby allowing some variation and capacity for adaptation. The asexual or apomictic nature of reproduction can be advantageous as a short term survival strategy for small populations if those species have a self-compatible pollination system. We are starting to find this is not the case for all apomictic species which means they are reliant on effective pollen flow between species to reproduce!

We are particularly interested in the interactions between these species and how their reproductive ecology may influence their evolutionary potential. For example, we are looking at pollen flow across one of the woodland sites to see how it effects seed production and where the compatible pollination partnerships are. This type of research helps shed light on this particular mechanism of speciation and the ecological factors that influence the process. If we regard these interactions as a network, which may also include common species, we can target management towards conservation of this network rather than solely at the threatened species, see Ennos et al, 2012.

Tracey Hamston was a PhD student based in the Molecular Ecology & Evolution Group at the University of Exeter, studying the endemic Sorbus species of the southwest UK in collaboration with the National Botanic Gardens of Wales. This research was funded by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust

Dr Tracey Hamston

Gloomy to great

Published: November 6, 2017

Edwards's-pheasant-ShutterstockConservation can be depressing. Ask anyone who works in the field and they’ll provide an example of a species in decline or a new challenge to resolve. This was most recently brought home to me at the beginning of October, when I read a letter (published September 14) in the journal ‘Science’ regarding the saola.

In a previous life, before WWCT, I often described the saola to students as ‘the biggest animal you’ve never heard of’ and if it’s a name you’re unfamiliar with then I urge you to Google it. In terms of animal favourites, I veer towards the ectothermic, but the saola has always held a special fascination and I’ve followed the conservation efforts directed towards it with great interest.

I can distinctly remember reading about the discovery of the Vu-Quang ox (as it was then called) in a 1992 edition of BBC Wildlife. It amazed me that something so big could go unnoticed for so long and gave added impetus to my early ambitions to work in zoos and conservation. I was studying for A-Levels at the time and held out a hope that one day I’d be able to see a saola for myself; either in a zoo or in the wilds of the Vietnamese Annamite Mountains where they reportedly lived.

Fast forward 25 years and to the subject of the letter in Science. Sadly, it seems that those teenage ambitions may never come to fruition, as the consensus view of the expert authors was that the species may now be on the very cusp of extinction. Due primarily to intensive trapping for bushmeat, the wild population is estimated to be less than 100 (possibly just a few dozen) and the remaining animals may already be too widely distributed, and their habitat too fragmented, for a recovery to be possible.

Previous attempts at keeping the saola in captivity have been unsuccessful, however this option is now being proposed as a last ditch effort to bring the species back from the edge. From scientific discovery to near extinction in a quarter of a century – that’s about half the time it took for ancient mariners to wipe out the dodo. As I said; depressing.

The story of the saola serves to remind us of the enormity of the challenge facing conservationists, as well as highlighting the potential role of captive breeding and the expertise of the zoo community in contributing to this struggle. I mentioned at the beginning that if the name ‘saola’ was unfamiliar, you should Google it. Ever the optimist, I remain hopeful that in the future, typing the name saola into a search engine will result in news of how well this amazing animal is now doing and not, as is currently feared, a reference to another species now extinct.

Whilst October may have started with a conservation ‘trough’, it closed with a peak. If you’re still on Google finding out about saola, open up another tab and search for Bolitoglossa jacksoni. More obscure even than the saola, Jackson’s climbing salamander is a species that had not been seen at all since its discovery in Guatemala in 1975. And yet, in October of this year, after 42 years of absence, one was found. As salamanders go, it’s a stunner; with bright yellow stripes and feet that remind me of a cartoon character, its rediscovery provides welcome respite from the many gloomy messages surrounding amphibian conservation.

It’s a reminder that there is good news out there and there is good work being done. That WWCT contributes to this good work is without question. We may not work directly with the saola but we do great things in Vietnam with civets and we’re planning more with Edward’s pheasants. We’re unlikely to ever get to work with Jackson’s climbing salamander, but we do great things for amphibians elsewhere. Conservation can be depressing but there are good news stories to be told. It will be these stories that inspire the next generation of conservationists to join us in our work and it will be these stories we’ll aim to tell to our guests.

Steve Nash, WWCT Head of Education

Bat people

Published: October 5, 2017

Lesser horseshoe bat credit Dr Paul ChaninClennon Gorge Nature Reserve is attached to Paignton Zoo; you can explore some of it from the nature trail that starts near the lemurs. The reserve sits on limestone bedrock, and limestone readily forms caves.

Bats have taken advantage of this scenario and have made themselves at home in these cool calm dark pockets of the reserve. So far, we have records of three species of bats using the caves through winter as a hibernation roost; greater horseshoe bats and lesser horseshoe bats and very occasionally a Daubenton’s bat. Some of these bats will also utilise the caves though the summer as a feeding roost.

Our surveys of bats in the caves goes back to 1991 and over the last seven years, we have been carrying monthly bat counts. It is important to note that these caves are only visited once a month and only under license from Natural England.

The survey itself is an interesting experience irrespective of the bats, with intriguing rock formations and fantastic invertebrates to be seen. My favourite Invertebrate is the European cave spider. They can be quite big and they create egg cases that look like perfectly spherical cotton wool balls with an orange centre. There are also moths that overwinter in the caves, such as the herald and the bloxworth snout (great name!). Another mini-beast of note is the bristletail Trigoniophthalmus alternatus, an insect restricted to caves in South Devon.

During the winter surveys, it doesn’t take long before you spot your first bat, and it tends to be the more conspicuous greater horseshoe. Their tear drop shaped bodies will be hung from the ceilings and the walls of the cave, maintaining a small distance from each other. The lesser horseshoes, as the name would suggest, are smaller than the greaters. The lessers can be a bit more elusive too, sometimes tucked away in crevices. We make our way around the caves, counting the bats in a systematic fashion.

In the main, the caves are quite open and spacious so you can walk around in them; there are only a couple of places where you need to crawl or lie down and wiggle through. We also record the temperature and relative humidity of the caves and the outside, plus the times of entry and exit. The January and February information is fed back to the National Hibernation Survey organised by the Bat Conservation Trust. In addition to this we send all of our survey data to the DBRC (Devon Biological Records Centre) and the local bat group.

Dave Ellacott, Reserves Warden, WWCT, with Dr Paul Chanin, University of Exeter and Chair of Trustees, WWCT and George Bemment, bat consultant

Making a (science) exhibition of ourselves

Published: September 20, 2017


Setting up the VR cameras

As I write this, it is mid-September, and we are in the middle of a very busy month of science preparations.

The WWCT will be exhibiting at New Scientist Live 2017 at ExCel London on 28th Sept – 1st Oct. This will be an exciting exhibition of science, from biology to cosmology, marketed as “the world’s most exciting festival of ideas”!

WWCT will be represented at the event by staff from Paignton Zoo, Newquay Zoo and Living Coasts; we will be displaying the wealth of science that goes on at our zoos. We will be taking part in a stand run by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), where we will be joined by three other zoo organisations: The Deep, the Zoological Society of London, and Chester Zoo, making this an exciting collaborative event to demonstrate the diversity and importance of zoo science.

Science is fundamental to the work that we do at our zoos, and also to our field conservation projects, but many people don’t realise the diversity of science topics that we cover, or the amount of research work that goes on across our sites. So, how do we use science at the WWCT? Well firstly, science is vital to our animal care. From biology to veterinary science, it is crucial that we understand the needs of our animals and how to look after them. A great deal of research goes into nutritional analysis for animal diets, and WWCT has been leading research into the benefits of removing sugary fruit from primate diets (see our article on the BIAZA website for more information: https://biaza.org.uk/projects/detail/what-would-you-feed-a-gorilla).

We also study the science of animal behaviour, which we use for a wide range of projects such as investigating the effects of environmental enrichment, examining how animals respond to UV light, and studying breeding behaviours, to name just a few. Managing our animals also requires knowledge of genetics, and staff at WWCT zoos manage 13 European Endangered species Programmes (EEPs) and European Studbooks (ESBs).

We also use conservation science in our in situ conservation projects, both in the UK and abroad. We monitor and survey populations of animals using camera traps and genetic analysis. Significantly, we have been developing a new diagnostic tool for the identification of chytrid fungus, a disease that is a huge threat to populations of amphibians world-wide (see our news article here).

That is just a taste of the vast amount of science that takes place in our zoos and as part of conservation projects. We will be presenting a lot of these topics at the New Scientist Live event. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to talk to WWCT staff about the work that we do, see the equipment that we use, and will be able to get ‘hands on’ and experience our research.

All of this is very exciting, but it means that we have a lot of preparation to do! So, for the next few weeks we will be busy writing information crib sheets and collating facts and figures, preparing videos and photos, creating activities and loading up equipment; everything from camera traps, to a box of rubber frogs (to help us to demonstrate our chytrid project)…

If all of that is not enough, we are also preparing a 360 degree virtual reality video! This is a really exciting project that will allow people to enter the ‘virtual zoo’ and view our animals from new angles and learn more about our exciting science. If you have visited any of our zoos recently, you may have seen our keepers and the team from Soundview Media putting cameras in unusual places, such as at the top of the tiger feeding pole, and even underwater in the penguin pool. Once the video is ready, viewers will be able to watch some exciting animal behaviour from right at the centre of the action! I can’t wait to see all of the footage put together.

So wish us luck in our preparations, and we hope that we will see you at New Scientist Live (we’ll be on stand 531!). We will be posting on our social media pages during the event, and we’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us to work with other BIAZA zoos and showcase the fantastic science that takes place at the WWCT.

To find out more information about our research, take a look at our website at: http://www.wwct.org.uk/research/wwct-research-themes

We have also written blogs on the BIAZA website, which link to the projects that we will be exhibiting at the event:

Finally check us out on the New Scientist Live website: https://live.newscientist.com/exhibitors/swep?&azletter=W&searchgroup=libraryentry-exhibitors

Dr Joanna Newbolt
Higher Education Co-ordinator

It’s all gone quiet!

Published: August 9, 2017

hollyAll our students have gone. Each year, WWCT hosts undergraduates that come to work within university undergraduate industrial year programmes; this year we had eight students studying across our three zoo sites and reserves. They were with us from September 2016 – but the final student left at the end of July.

At Paignton Zoo, the students are based in the office next door to the WWCT staff, so they could knock on the door and pop in whenever they needed advice during project development or on statistics during their final few months. We had four zoo-based students at Paignton this year. Joe studied the breeding behaviour of the Critically Endangered Edwards’s pheasant, a Vietnamese species that we are planning to work with in situ. Using a surveillance camera system, Joe spent the year recording the breeding behaviour of the two pairs we house off show, with the aim of detailing courtship and chick rearing behaviour that can be fed into husbandry guidelines for our in situ partners to use. He also made an open-access website with video clips and information on his project that other holders of the species can reference. This year the pheasants hatched five chicks, so we will be continuing this research topic next year to observe chick development and hopefully further breeding.

Ignatius spent his placement year recording behaviour, enclosure use, collecting faeces and analysing the diet of spider monkeys under different lighting conditions. He was investigating the effect of UVB lighting in the indoor enclosure – but found that spider monkeys prefer to sit outside on sunny days. His findings led to the conclusion that providing UVB lighting on overcast days and during the winter months when the UV Index is low, may be beneficial to the animals and the energy expenditure of the Zoo.

In addition, we had two students investigating visitor behaviour at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts, with Alice monitoring the influence of different types of interpretation on visitor learning in our Crocodile Swamp exhibit and Alex measuring what visitors learn from feeding experiences. Alice found that visitors learn more when provided with information during educational talks and Alex discovered that visitors engaging in a feeding experience learn more than general visitors. As we run a range of visitor feeding events at our sites, we potentially have a good audience to share our conservation messages.

Also at Paignton, we had two students studying native species – bees and bats. Emily built bee hotels that she positioned around the Paignton Zoo site to encourage nesting by solitary bees. It seems that solitary bees prefer bamboo compared to other substrates such as cob and drilled logs. We will continue to monitor the nests until the bees wake from hibernation next March. Our other ecology student, Luke, spent the year monitoring bat species from their calls to determine the features such as waterbodies and hedgerows that they use to navigate around Paignton Zoo. There was an abundance of common pipistrelles at the Zoo, with an average of over 300 bat passes recorded per night, favouring woodland and grassland habitats. The Zoo has a diversity of environments and our Reserves Warden Dave maintains the woods and grassland around the site, also conducting monthly bat checks in the Zoo’s caves.

Over at Living Coasts Meghan has been busy training the blue-spotted ribbontail rays in the Mangrove exhibit using positive reinforcement training. During feed times, keepers had observed aggression in the tank and had identified that the three female ribbontails were being aggressive towards the masked rays. Meghan spent the year training two of the rays to come over to a specific target (a white and black circle with a different pattern), touch the target with their body and receive a food item as a reward. The training was very successful, resulting in a reduction in aggression in the tank. Meg was based in the keeper office during her placement and the plan is that keepers will continue this husbandry technique now that Meg has left.

At our sister site in Cornwall, Newquay Zoo, Harriet worked from the Research and Education office and was trialling different diets for frogs to investigate whether carotenoid supplementation (yellow, orange and red pigments) affects growth. By taking weekly length measurements of tadpoles and recording the days until metamorphosis, Harriet determined that a higher carotenoid diet is associated with a larger increase in growth rates and could be a beneficial supplement for zoo frogs.

It may be quiet this week, but our MSc students are coming to the end of their dissertation project data collection, which means we will be carrying out statistics workshops this month. Also, the next cohort of placement students start on 4th September, so it will not be quiet for long!

Dr Holly Farmer, Zoo Research Officer

Zoo to open string of hotels

Published: March 16, 2017

2017 02 WWCT bee hotels smallPaignton Zoo is opening a chain of hotels – for bees… A student studying artificial nest-sites for bees has put up ten “bee hotels” in the Zoo’s 80 acres of grounds.

Emily Tyack, a third year Environmental Biology student at the University of Nottingham, is on a year-long placement with the Field Conservation & Research Department of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

The bees that Emily is researching are not the sort that help put honey on our breakfast tables: “Most people are familiar with the honey bee. There are also 25 species of bumble bee that buzz around our gardens on a sunny day. But there are also about 250 species of solitary bee in the UK.

“My research project is assessing the effectiveness of artificial nest sites for solitary bees in areas that otherwise provide suitable resources, such as flower beds for nectar and pollen. Bees are threatened by habit loss and increased agricultural practices – it’s hoped that by providing artificial nesting sites, we will create more viable areas in which British bee species can nest and support a population.

“Honey and bumble bees live in colonies, but solitary bees choose to nest in individual holes. These are the bees I am hoping to learn more about.” Emily has spent the winter period – whilst bees are hibernating – making different types of bee house. These have been boxed up together to create ten grand bee hotels.

“Different species have different nesting preferences. You might have solitary bees in the brickwork of your house or the canes supporting your runner beans. The red mason bee is cavity nesting – it lays an egg at the end of a long hollow, provides the egg with pollen and nectar and then seals it up using mud. The leafcutter bee does the same thing but uses leaf matter to seal the hole. Carpenter bees nest in wood, mining bees prefer to bore holes in sandy soils and nest there.”
Every hotel has one of each of the types of bee house; there’s a drilled log, a reed tube, a cob brick, a bamboo tube and a wooden slot box. The aim is to provide a variety of nesting media with a range of diameter holes so that Emily can find out which species prefers which medium and which sized hole.

The bee hotels have been placed in sunny spots around Paignton Zoo, including outside the Zoo’s Vet Centre, near the train station, in the wildlife garden and on the big lawn not far from Crocodile Swamp. The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust hosts around 100 students every year at its three zoos, including those on year-long placements like Emily, MSc students from universities in Plymouth and Exeter and other visiting researchers.

The Trust’s UK Conservation Officer, Tracey Hamston, said: “We do a lot to conserve the wildlife that naturally lives in the Zoo. Visitors come for the exotic animals but a wealth of native species can also be found here, so it is important that we look after them, too. Many are in decline, including pollinating insects such as bees.”