Author Archives: whitley.admin

How to do joined-up conservation

Published: January 12, 2017

monkeyWe call it holistic conservation, or joined-up conservation. It’s when the animals at our zoos and our fieldwork on the ground tie together to form a single logical thread.

The two of us recently travelled to Indonesia to visit our Selamatkan Yaki project, which works with Critically Endangered Sulawesi crested black macaques (Macaca nigra). The species can be seen at both Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo; in addition, Holly coordinates a key conservation programme for the species in European zoos. Selamatkan Yaki means “Save the Sulawesi macaque”.

We went out to help organise and attend the second Species Action Plan workshop for Macaca nigra at which we gave a talk on the role of zoos in macaque conservation. We also went to generally catch up with Selamatkan Yaki and their projects and meet with various partners.

We attended the last day of school visits by the Selamatkan Yaki education team as they completed their Yaki Pride campaign in southern Minahasa – they have involved 34 schools in all. We also went to Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is home to around 60 Macaca nigra rescued from the pet trade, and to Tangkoko Nature Reserve to see wild macaques and other species.

We want to link the role of the European zoo population into the wider aims for conserving the species in the wild. As the European Endangered species Programme Coordinator for Macaca nigra, Holly is in a great position to do that.

The important thing is the link we as a conservation charity make between the management of zoo populations and conservation efforts in the wild. People can see this species in our zoos and learn about the way we are leading conservation efforts in their native range. It’s joined-up conservation.

The trip went smoothly. Indonesia is a relatively modern part of the world and the team out there really took care of us, but it takes a long time to get there – about 24 hours door-to-door. We had a few tropical downpours with lightning and the forest was full of mosquitos and leeches! The highlight for Holly was seeing macaques in the wild for the first time.

Our project in Sulawesi is a great example of holistic conservation – we have a strong team on the ground working with local people in many different ways to reduce the threats to this species. Harry Hilser, the Field Programme Manager, and his team work really hard and do a fantastic job. This team is supported technically and financially by zoos back in Europe which keep macaques, including Paignton Zoo, Newquay Zoo and many others.

Dr Holly Farmer and Dr Andrew Bowkett

Sulawesi conservation trip

Planting Strapwort Seedlings In Cornwall

Published: June 12, 2016

A joint project between the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the National Trust has culminated in over 1500 strapwort plants being planted on the shores around Loe Pool in Cornwall, a site where it was last recorded in the early 1900s.

The tiny plants were grown by the horticultural team at Paignton Zoo (run by WWCT) using seed from plants at Slapton Ley, a nature reserve also owned by WWCT. This was previously the only site for the Critically Endangered Strapwort in the UK.


Once the plants arrived at Loe Pool, staff and volunteers from both organisations combined to undertake the mammoth task of getting them all into the ground. The site had been carefully selected with the open conditions required for strapwort. The new plants were already flowering and ready to produce seed for the next generation. The low water levels meant there was plenty of shoreline and it should continue to drop over the summer.

The newly planted population was closely monitored over the summer. Alex Millington, a researcher from the University of Exeter, was on site for much of the summer, watching for the first new Cornish plants for 100 years and recording data for his dissertation.


Strapwort is a small plant with white flowers which is found on the shores of freshwater lakes and rivers. It needs the bare shore left as the summer water levels drop to grow and produce its tiny seeds. These are spread by water and possibly birds’ feet.

Slapton Ley has always been known by botanists as the place to spot strapwort, and people on their knees peering closely at the ground around the shores of the Ley is not an uncommon sight. A combination of research, site management and supplementing the Slapton population has led to sustainable numbers and improved knowledge about the ecology of this choosy little plant. Grazing animals historically kept much of the shoreline open, but these days the clearance work is done by FSC reserves officer Nick Binnie and a willing band of volunteers. However, as a single population, it was at high risk of extinction, so Natural England funded us to undertake a study to look at other potential sites.

We looked at several sites but the National Trust site at Loe Pool was always the most likely as it had historic links with strapwort. It was recorded there in the late 1800s as being prolific before declining and disappearing in the early 1900s. Conditions in the pool have improved over the last 15 years so reintroduction is now possible.

The National Trust were also keen to see it growing there once again.  Laura Bailey, the NT ranger for Loe Pool, has been preparing the site with volunteers by clearing some scrub to create the open conditions it needs.

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A Springtime Ramble

Published: April 17, 2015

Lesser celandine

With the proper chilly days of winter behind us, the heralds of spring have been pushing their way out of the cold soil.

In the reserves there is a host of new lush green leaves from plants that are quick to take advantage of warming sun before the onset of full leaf cover and shade.  Dog’s mercury may not be a very showy plant with its tiny flowers, but in a group early in the year it is a very pleasing sight.  Out in the meadow and at the edges of the wood the lesser celandine is prominent with its happy yellow flowers.  The name celandine comes from the Greek word for swallow and like its name sake is another of spring’s heralds.  Joining the yellow colour palette soon after is Devon’s county flower the ‘first rose’ or Primrose.



Back in the woods the bluebells’ strap-like leaves have appeared and the first signs of flower buds emerge soon followed by the dangling floral bells that are so familiar and perhaps the most loved of all spring spectacles.  Sadly, Primley Park also has the hybrid between the British and Spanish bluebell. The Spanish hybrid is stouter and has wider leaves.  Alongside the bluebells are the pretty white flowers of the wild garlic. Stomping amongst the plant causes it to release its heady aroma, waking my belly long before lunchtime and leaving me wanting garlic bread!

The other spring representatives I eagerly welcome are

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

the first insects after their winter hibernation. Butterflies like the peacock will feed on the bluebells and buff-tailed bumble bee queens can be seen feeding on the primrose.

Spring is without doubt my favourite time and these plants and animals along with many other not mentioned make this time of year special.  Mentally ticking off the species as they appear and sharing the ‘first one spotted’ stories with friends and colleagues is a geeky joy.  I recommend that you go and visit Primley Park (other nature reserves are available) and see the show.

Bluebells, dog's mercury and peacock butterfly

Bluebells, dog’s mercury and peacock butterfly









Dave Ellacott,
Reserves Warden, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust


At the sharp end – rhinos in Zimbabwe

Published: October 22, 2014

Working with rhinos is dangerous – and not for the obvious reasons. Yes, they are short-sighted, nervous, incredibly fast over 50 meters, weigh more than a ton and have sharp pointy bits on the front. But the really dangerous part about working with them is the vehicles.rhinos430x323

Let me explain. The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust provides operating support (that’s money and expertise) annually to a small charity, the Dambari Wildlife Trust (DWT), based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. That trust carries out a lot of work in and around the Matobo Hills National Park, which contains one of the world’s iconic landscapes, and also the largest surviving populations of black and white rhinos in western Zimbabwe. Those populations are carefully managed because they are so precious, and every rhino is captured, ear-notched, and a transponder tag is inserted in one of the horns. This work has been ongoing for over a decade.

The procedure is known as ‘rhino operations’; DWT organises them every year, in the cool dry season (May to September), and provides the logistical support to the capture teams. The teams have a fixed wing aircraft to spot the rhinos; a helicopter to get the veterinarian close enough to dart them; and trucks and other vehicles to transport the animals if they need to be moved to another park for reasons of genetic management. It’s a complex operation, and although the teams are now very skilled at it, things still go wrong.

A few years ago the helicopter clipped a tree on landing and turned over on its side, injuring the veterinarian and totally writing off the machine. During this year’s operations the fixed wing aircraft ‘made a heavy landing and hit a tree’, which sounds pretty much like an air crash to me, but fortunately nobody was hurt. Then, earlier this month a DWT Land Rover overturned on a road near the Matobo hills and, tragically, a passenger was killed after being thrown out of the vehicle. Strictly speaking the vehicle wasn’t on rhino operations at the time, but it could easily have been.

In all that time not one person has been hurt by a rhino.

rhino 1 for Zimbabwe blogThe increase in elephant and rhino poaching in southern Africa has been one of the headline conservation stories throughout the world in the last few years. The rhinos in the enormous Hwange National Park, in northern Zimbabwe, have been completely exterminated and sometimes we wonder how it is that the Matobo rhinos still survive. The only recent poaching incident there was in November 2013 when two bull white rhino were machine-gunned to death in the middle of the park during a night of heavy rain.

Unusually, the poachers made no attempt to hide the evidence, for example by collecting the spent bullet casings, and they didn’t have time to remove the horns before a ranger team, which heard the gunfire, responded. It was such an unusual case that we wondered if the motives were different from normal poaching events; perhaps related to local politics around the reserve. It is impossible to isolate any national park, particularly one as small and surrounded as Matobo, from the communities around it. The park exists because those communities tolerate it; our challenge is to help them come to love and value it for its own sake. How we do that is such a complex issue that it will have to be the subject of another blogpost in the future!

Simon Tonge
Executive Director, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust


Slow Loris Outreach Week

Published: September 11, 2014

Slow Lorises don’t have it easy. Everyone thinks they are slow because of their name, and because of the lack of evidence everyone thinks they eat fruit and rice. For this reason many lorises in captive settings receive inadequate diets and with inadequate furniture. They are also absolutely adorable and they are a hot commodity in the illegal pet trade which is pushing their dwindling wild populations to extinction.

slow-lorisPaignton Zoo has been at the forefront of slow loris nutrition, conducting research on captive diets. Turns out feeding them what they eat in the wild – gum, insects and nectar – is healthier for them than fruit and hard boiled eggs or chicks. It encourages natural behaviours and decreases abnormal behaviour patterns.

The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust is also funding intense research into the natural feeding behaviour of the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), which aims to itemise and quantify the diet of wild individuals. This new data will be used to create nutrient recommendations which will guide the creation of the ideal captive diet. Not only is this important for zoos but also for rescue centres in South East Asia which are full to the brim of confiscated lorises, most of which are fed poor diets. Having a wild standard and nutrient guide is the absolute ideal when creating a zoo diet! The wild animals will be observed at the Little Fireface Project. Hopefully reintroductions will be more successful after they have a healthy and appropriate diet in captivity.

This week is the Slow Loris Outreach Week (SLOW, get it?) and it is our goal to spread the plight of the slow loris. Surprising slow loris facts:

1. Slow lorises are not slow! They are very agile and strong but they cannot jump so they must be within reaching distance of other branches. If they have somewhere they need to be … one blink and they are gone!
2. They are extremely popular in the pet trade because they are cute but they make AWFUL pets! They naturally have a very pungent smell, they are nocturnal and want to sleep while you are awake and they are venomous and can actually kill you. This is why their teeth are usually ripped out before being sold in the markets.
3. There are 8 species of slow lorises but we are expecting there to be many more after looking at molecular markers.slow-loris2
4. They aren’t as solitary as once believed! A male and female will actually have overlapping territories and can be seen sleeping together occasionally. The male will also play with its offspring.
5. They are very hard to breed in captivity and only a handful of institutions can manage it (including Paignton Zoo!). Any seller saying they were bred in captivity is not telling a likely story.
6. They like to sleep in bamboo patches or on branches of huge trees and prefer places that are less noisy. Guess I am more like a loris than I thought.

You want to help the slow loris during SLOW!? HOW!? Well for starters you can share posts and banners from the Little Fireface Project and other conservation and zoological NGOs! Although be wary of those Youtube videos of the lorises eating rice or being tickled, they are actually illegal pets and sharing those videos has been shown to cause a spike in people wanting them as pets so avoid at all costs!! More importantly, get involved! Come see the pygmy slow lorises at Paignton Zoo (or your nearest BIAZA zoo). They are beautiful and quirky little primates and will entertain you during their inquisitive and puzzling interactions.

This post was written by Francis Cabana, Zoo Nutrition Researcher and PhD student in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, who is currently carrying out research into the natural feeding ecology of the Javan slow loris with support from the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. Francis also did research at Paignton Zoo for two years where he first fell in love with slow lorises.

Native species in a zoo full of exotics…

Published: August 12, 2014

Conservation work in Primley Meadow

Recording the vegetation in Primley Meadow

My name is Alexandra Moore and I’m a placement student from Cardiff University working as an ecology researcher for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust based at Paignton Zoo.

Five months in and I am still having the best time. It’s great working in the Field Conservation and Research Department as there are plenty of different projects to get involved in. A placement year is the perfect way to gain practical experience and see what working life is truly like.

What have I done so far? Keeper days, pond dipping with school children, weekly butterfly transects, planting thyme, post and rail fencing, the list goes on! I particularly enjoyed helping with the monthly monitoring of bat numbers in the caves at Clennon Gorge, a 60 acre wooded valley adjacent to the Zoo. This involved being fully kitted out with waterproofs, wellies and helmet and crawling through some rather tight spaces in order to count the numbers of greater and lesser horseshoe bats present. It was amazing to see all the sleeping bats up close. I’m not the biggest fan of spiders, so I had to do my best to pretend they weren’t there!

Being at the Zoo we are surrounded by incredible animals that you do not expect to see on a daily basis! However, my work focuses on native species, which are very important and shouldn’t be forgotten about. Strapwort (Corrigiola litoralis) is a Critically Endangered plant growing on the shore of Slapton Ley, one of the nature reserves WWCT owns.  The future of strapwort at Slapton Ley is uncertain because the sea could break through the shingle ridge. I’ve explored all the information I can find on strapwort in order to develop a view on the feasibility of reintroductions to other sites in South West England. Strapwort may not be the most exciting of plants, but it would be a real shame for it to disappear from Britain altogether.

For University I have to carry out my own project entailing research, planning, data collection and analysis. I am investigating the floral diversity of Primley meadow, an important green space in Paignton. Before 1995, horses grazed on Primley meadow, resulting in a highly fertile soil overrun by few coarse grasses in low biological diversity.  I have read a large number of papers and completed a literature review on meadow restoration, which highlighted restoration of grassland on formerly arable land to be an important biodiversity issue.

Previous students have tried to work out the best way to increase plant species diversity at Primley, experimenting with techniques such as ground rotovation, sowing yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) or adding wild flower seed mixes. Yellow rattle may look pretty and innocent, however, looks can deceive – it sends out roots that grow into the roots of neighbouring grass plants, stealing nutrients. Yellow rattle can help to provide variety in meadows by weakening the coarse grasses, giving other species more of a chance to survive. In May I will be collecting data to see how well Primley has progressed in species richness, whether the yellow rattle has spread from where it was sown and if there are particular floral diversity hotspots in the meadow. In the meantime, my wildflower and plant identification skills need some vital attention!

Major award for Trust project photo

Published: November 5, 2013

Photographer Andrew Walmsley has scooped a big photography award with a picture taken while working with a Devon conservation charity’s team in Indonesia.

He has won a prize in the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition with a photo of Sulawesi crested black macaques charging down a beach.

Andrew spent time in Sulawesi, Indonesia, with the Selamatkan Yaki project, run by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, based at Paignton Zoo.

The Critically Endangered Sulawesi crested black macaque is the focus of a conservation and education project which sees Trust staff working on the ground with schools and government departments to raise awareness for this charismatic monkey.

Andrew is runner-up in the Behaviour: Mammals category of the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. The Trust’s partners in the Selamatkan Yaki project include Pacific Institute for Sustainability and Taronga Conservation Society in Australia.