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Cells from Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas to be used for research into deadly diseases

Cells taken from the mouths of the UK’s only giant pandas could be used for research into some of the deadly diseases which threaten the species.

Scientists have produced stem cells from swabs which can be used in research into potential vaccines.

Cells have been taken from the cheeks of Tian Tian and Yang Guang, who live at Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) Edinburgh Zoo .

Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas for the RZSS, said: “This week a scientific paper was published regarding a stem cell production project with a number of other prestigious organisations.

“Basically stem cells have been produced from swabs. Why is this important? Because it gives conservationists another method of bio-banking genetic resource other than sperm or eggs.

“Cell lines, created from easily collectable samples like cheek swabs, help with research into some of the deadly diseases that pandas are susceptible to – such as distemper, parvovirus and retrovirus.

“Cell lines allow us to test potential vaccines without having to involve the animals themselves and they can also be used for tissue repair.

“Importantly, this has nothing to do with cloning, although some key figures involved in the cloning of Dolly the sheep are sharing their expertise as part of the project.”

Mr Valentine said RZSS is currently facilitating 40 giant panda-related projects around the world.

The research work stems from the giant panda research symposium held in Edinburgh in 2013, when RZSS gathered over 60 experts from around the world to help develop a five-year research plan for giant pandas.

Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine) are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years.

The animals arrived on loan from China in December 2011.

Tian Tian was artificially inseminated for the third time earlier this year and vets said she conceived but did not know for definite if she was pregnant.

However, in August the zoo said the pregnancy window had passed and that she would not give birth to a cub this year.

The zoo said it is believed Tian Tian “resorbed her pregnancy in late term”, as is common among giant pandas.

Article taken from: http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/cells-edinburgh-zoos-giant-pandas-6578220

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Edinburgh zoo panda no longer believed to be pregnant

The UK’s only female giant panda will not give birth to a cub this year, experts at Edinburgh Zoo believe.

Tian Tian

Tian Tian was artificially inseminated for the third time in March and was thought to have conceived.
But despite the panda still showing signs of being pregnant, the zoo now believes Tian Tian lost the cub.

It is common for giant pandas to re-absorb the foetus into the womb in the late stages of pregnancy.
Chris West, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: “Based upon our scientific data, the window has now passed during which Tian Tian would have given birth
“Therefore RZSS has to advise that we now do not believe that our female giant panda will have a cub.

“Tian Tian is still showing behaviour of a pregnant panda, being sleepy and off her food, but we now must assume she has re-absorbed her pregnancy in late term.”

A team of three vets and a panda expert from China carried out the insemination on Tian Tian.
The procedure had also been carried out in each of the previous two years but she has so far failed to produce a cub.

Panda reproduction is a notoriously difficult process, with females only ovulating once a year.

The gestation period is typically five months and one or two cubs are usually born.

Mr West said the zoo had carried out “the world’s most comprehensive hormone analysis of an individual female giant panda” as they tracked any potential pregnancy.

“We are also hopeful that the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has made some key discoveries relating to giant panda pregnancy, which will add to the global understanding of this endangered species,” Mr West added.

“The conservation of giant pandas is a complex international effort. Although still early in the birthing season, this year we have had fantastic news from the National Zoo, Washington, and Zoo Negara in Malaysia.

“Our hopes and best wishes are now with Memphis Zoo and Ocean Park Hong Kong. No giant panda zoo works in isolation and success for one institution means success for the overall giant panda conservation programme.”

Tian Tian (Sweetie) and male Yang Guang (Sunshine) were the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years when they arrived on loan from China in December 2011.

The panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo was closed to the public last week as keepers prepared for the arrival of a rare cub and is due to reopen later today.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-34048872

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Critically Endangered Scottish Wildcat Kittens Born

RZSS Highland Wildlife Park is pleased to welcome three young Scottish wildcat kittens to the Park. Also known as the Highland Tiger, this incredibly rare, native species is facing the very real threat of extinction due to hybridisation with domestic and feral cats, habitat loss and accidental persecution. However, with coordinated conservation efforts and a new conservation breeding programme for eventual release now established, the future for the species is looking much brighter.

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The three young kittens were born at the end of April, but spent the first couple of months safely tucked away in their den with their mother Betidh, only recently starting to wander out and explore their territory. This year’s births add to a long line of successful breeding at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, which has been instrumental in maintaining a healthy captive population which acts as a safety net for the species.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, along with more than 20 other organisations, is involved in the Scottish Wildcat Action, a partnership project – supported by Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund – which represents the best chance the wildcat has of surviving in the long term. The project includes many of Scotland’s leading conservationists, working together with local people to save the Scottish wildcat. The Priority Areas Team, which is part of the project, is working hard to reduce the threats that wildcats face in the wild, which includes extensive neutering of feral and poor hybrid cats to prevent further hybridisation, whilst the Royal Zoological Society is undertaking a new conservation breeding programme to build up a robust and sustainable population for future release.

David Barclay, RZSS Cat Conservation Project Officer commented on the recent arrivals: “Without Scottish Wildcat Action the future of the Scottish wildcat is bleak. The team is working hard all over Scotland to ensure measures are put in place to reduce threats, raise awareness and protect the remaining wild population. With such a small and declining population another important element to our action plan is establishing a new conservation breeding programme to increase numbers for future re-introductions. The high standards of husbandry and breeding success from animal keepers at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park are an asset to the breeding programme, and important genes from these new arrivals may one day be represented in released cats roaming the wilds of Scotland.”

Although some similarities with domestic tabby cats exist, the two species are not to be confused. With their big, bushy, black-ringed tail and tenacious behaviour it is no surprise that the Scottish wildcat was used historically in many Highland clan crests. The Scottish wildcat is an incredibly rare and elusive creature, thought to be critically endangered, it is clear there is an immediate need for effective conservation measures across the whole of Scotland. All of the different wildcat species across the world are endangered for similar reasons, however the Scottish wildcat is one of the rarest cats in the world and is probably the nearest to extinction.

The Scottish wildcat is the same subspecies of wildcat as is found in continental Europe, but has been separated from them since the end of the last ice age, over 8000 years ago. Domestic cats originate from Near Eastern (African) wildcats and have been through a process of domestication. Hence they have a quite separate evolutionary history to Scottish wildcats and behave quite differently. Wildcats prefer to live alone but will come together for a short period for breeding, normally then giving birth to around two to three kittens, which the mother will protect fiercely.

Article taken from: http://www.rzss.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/press-release?urlName=critically-endangered-scottish-wildcat-kittens-born

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London zoo scraps Zoo Late parties

London Zoo has retired its alcohol-fuelled Friday night Zoo Late parties in favour of more sedate, family-friendly events.

The move follows the Guardian revealing last year that sources at the zoo were concerned at the impact of visitors’ rowdy behaviour on animals after a series of incidents including a man pouring a beer over a tiger.

The revelations prompted a series of petitions signed by tens of thousands of people calling on the zoo to end the parties, and an investigation by Westminster council.

The new format, rebranded as Sunset Safaris, begins this Friday. Unlike the previous events, the gorilla kingdom, one of the zoo’s main attractions, will be off-limits to visitors due to the birth of a baby gorilla. The Guardian last year saw crowds at a Zoo Late event in the gorilla area shouting beneath a sign asking visitors to be quiet.

The zoo said the events manager who oversaw the Zoo Lates resigned in November last year, though the Guardian understands she was sacked. Sources at the zoo who raised the initial alarm over the evenings said they were “delighted” and the change of format “speaks volumes”.

However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said the move was not enough. Elisa Allen, the group’s associate director, said: “The fact that animals in zoos have no way of escaping their day-to-day confinement is bad enough, but allowing visitors in the zoo outside normal business hours interrupts the animals’ usual sleep schedule and can cause them fear, distress and even physical harm.

“Whether they call them Zoo Lates or Sunset Safaris, London Zoo has made it perfectly clear that it doesn’t give a monkey’s about the individuals in its ‘care’.” The zoo denies the events impact on animal welfare.

Zoo Lates were marketed an as “after party with the animals” and attracted a young party crowd including hen parties and hundreds dressed in animal onesies. “Thought the zoo was for kids?” one article sponsored by the zoo said under the headline of “Release your wild side”, outlining the specially-chosen wines on offer.

By contrast, the Sunset Safaris are advertised as for “friends, couples, and families alike invited to experience the magic of the zoo after-hours” and invite visitors to hear “tales from the field” by the zoo’s conservationists. Alcohol will still be sold at the events.

A spokeswoman for Zoological Society of London said the changes were part of a regular review of its events to ensure it was delivering new experiences for visitors: “Zoo Lates was an incredible success, but after five years was due for review and we’re now looking forward to our new series of summer events, including Sunset Safari.”

The incidents at the former Zoo Lates parties included a man stripping off and attempting to enter the penguin pool, forcing staff to intervene, and unconfirmed reports that a drunken woman tried to enter the lion enclosure. One group on a night out cracked the glass on a snake enclosure, forcing the snakes to be moved.

The RSPCA, Peta and five other animal charities wrote to the zoo’s director last year asking him to shut down Zoo Lates as they were threatening animal welfare.

Westminster city council, which licenses the zoo, investigated the parties but later cleared them, finding “no evidence of any animal welfare implications as a result of the Zoo Lates events”.

The events are an important source of fundraising to pay for the pioneering conservation work by the world’s oldest zoo, raising £800,000 a year. The Sunset Safaris run each Friday until 17 July.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/04/london-zoo-scraps-zoo-late-parties

Related stories:

https://catdraggedin.co.uk/2014/07/31/london-zoo-under-investigation-after-beer-thrown-over-tiger/

https://catdraggedin.co.uk/2015/03/16/call-for-edinburgh-zoo-to-halt-party-nights/

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Call for Edinburgh Zoo to halt “party” nights

Edinburgh Zoo is under fire from an animal rights charity over plans to re-introduce “party” nights this year.

Pressure group ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), has written a letter to Edinburgh Zoo calling for the event to be called off as they believe it will create a stressful environment for the animals.

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At a similar recent event at London Zoo, one reveller reportedly poured beer on a tiger, and another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the penguin enclosure

In a letter to Chris West, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Zoo, the charity noted that at a similar recent event at London Zoo, one reveller reportedly poured beer on a tiger, and another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the penguin enclosure.

Edinburgh Zoo Night’s are described as an “adult only” event, where visitors can enjoy street food and drinks in a “relaxed atmosphere.”

Kirsty Henderson, writing the letter on behalf of PETA said: “Scientific research shows that during normal opening hours, the presence of zoo visitors can have a detrimental impact on the animals’ welfare. ‘Zoo Nights’, which take place outside normal opening hours, while animals would normally be resting, are likely to have an even greater negative impact on animal welfare, particularly if the visitors behave in a manner that stresses the animals.”

The letter added: “Zoos are responsible for the safety of the animals in their care, and they must make that a priority. Allowing these late-night events – in which visitors will be permitted to consume alcohol in a “relaxed atmosphere” and enjoy other after-hours entertainment to “kick start” their Friday nights – does not demonstrate adequate consideration for animal welfare, as it puts profits before the animals’ well-being.”

A spokeswoman for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said: “Edinburgh Zoo Nights visitors have never shown behaviour of this nature, which we totally concur is unacceptable. Although alcohol is available in moderation, there is absolutely not a ‘drunken’ atmosphere.”

She added: “The events, of which there are only four, are planned in conjunction with our animal experts. Our keepers are very careful to monitor our animals’ behaviour at any evening event and these events are tailor-made to ensure there is no disturbance to them, with all entertainers and bars situated away from animal enclosures, even our disco is a silent one. Simply put, there is no one that cares more about the animals in our care than our keeping staff. The animals can also enjoy the added stimulus of visitors to the park with enrichment activities, evening feeds and later access outside in some cases. We would like to reassure you that we are confident that there are no welfare complications and the animals are always our priority. As a charity that receives no public funding we rely on gate attendance, events and sponsorship for our resources to care for animals and manage conservation, research and education programmes. This does mean exploring ways to increase our income in a world with escalating conservation challenges. We are also very much about education and Edinburgh Zoo Nights is very popular with younger people who enjoy being at the Zoo and are fascinated by the animals and engaged with keepers and other staff about our work.”

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/call-for-edinburgh-zoo-to-halt-party-nights-1-3717457

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Happy World Lion Day!

Today we celebrate World Lion Day; an international day to mark the majesty and plight of our incredible yet vanishing lions.

Lions are a truly global symbol – everyone instantly recognises and understands their unmistakeable features. On one hand a playful and misunderstood cat, on the other a renowned and revered killer. Say what you like about lions, they’re diminishing fast. Only somewhere between 16,500 and 47,000 African lions still live in the wild, while the Asiatic lion is now classed as officially endangered.

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Today is our chance to commemorate and celebrate these majestic, magical big cats. Whether it’s pledging to march for their survival, or to donate time or money to help safeguard their existence on our fragile planet, why not play your part and take action for lions today? None of us want to see a day where the only lions in existence are those in zoos. Let’s all join together to do what we can, while we can.

Happy Lion Day, everyone.

For a full list of global animal events taking place throughout the year please visit our Calendar

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London zoo under investigation after beer thrown over tiger

Westminster city council has launched an investigation into night parties held at London zoo, following revelations of alcohol-fuelled incidents including a beer being thrown over a tiger, a drunken woman reportedly trying to enter a lion enclosure and a man stripping off and attempting to enter the penguin pool.

The Guardian revealed earlier this month that sources at the zoo had raised serious concerns over rowdy behaviour by members of the public at the Zoo Lates sessions, but the zoo insists that animal welfare is not threatened and there is no need to review its policy of selling alcohol at the events.

“During the day, welfare and conservation is of the utmost priority. In the evening, that seems to go out of the window, and the animals become a commodity. That’s not what zoos are about, but there’s a lot of money in it,” a source said.

On Friday nights throughout the summer, London Zoo hosts

The Friday night events held over the summer are now being investigated by the council, which issues the zoo’s license, to see if animal welfare and public welfare are being put at risk.

Steve Harrison, Westminster city council’s operation director of street management, said: “If they are true, the stories about London zoo’s Late sessions raise real concerns both about public safety and animal welfare. We have already asked for a full report into what happened. The zoo has duties of care and clear commitments under its premises and zoo licences and we will work with managers to ensure they are upheld at any future events.”

A spokeswoman for the zoo has said the events are safe, a ban on alcohol is not necessary, and only three people were removed from the sessions during 2013 and 2014. The evenings raise £800,000 a year to fund the zoo’s conservation programmes and animal collections.

A petition calling for the zoo’s management to close the Zoo Lates has collected nearly 15,000 signatures in a fortnight.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/31/london-zoo-beer-tiger-westminster-council-investigation

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