Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
In 1909, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was formed and the Edinburgh Zoo was opened in 1913. Only 3 miles west of the Edinburgh City Centre lies this 82 acre facility that is home to over 1000 animals, many involved in conservation related breeding programs. In recent time, the zoo is visited by more than 600,000 people a year where the mission of all they do is to promote conservation and concern about the fragile ecosystems all over the globe through the “inspiration” that comes as a result of experiencing the wonder of animals.
One of the major milestones for the Edinburgh zoo happened only a year after opening when it was the first zoo ever to house and breed penguins, including the King penguin. In 1950, some of the penguins escaped their enclosure, and went on a bit of a walk. The escapees inspired an activity that now takes place everyday called the “Penguin Parade”, when the penguins can voluntarily go for a walk on the grassy areas close to their enclosure. Its fun and stimulating for both the penguins and the guests that get to watch as they waddle about chaperoned by their keeper.
The penguins aren’t the only water loving animals at the zoo, and the Patagonian sea lions are equally entertaining, when they aren’t lounging. Catch them at feeding time for the most antics of the male and female marine mammals, both who were born in captivity and brought to the zoo. Sofus is the male, and although he is ten years younger than his partner, Miranda, he will be twice her size when fully grown. Other marine animals not to miss are the European otters, a small family that includes a mom a dad and their baby.
One of the other very unique aspects of the zoo is the Chimpanzee exhibit on the Budongo Trail, as it is said to be the most interactive chimp facility in the world. There are 10 new chimps in the exhibit, in addition to the dozen already making the place home. Extensive research is done at the zoo involving these great apes, as the results of the studies can help both the care and understanding of chimps in captivity and how to best help those in the wild. The keepers conduct both behavioral studies, which in a type of “non-invasive” study that doesn’t require much human/animal interaction, and interactive research. The latter involves puzzle-solving type exercises, and the chimps participation is always voluntary. There are other primates being studied as well, including the brown capuchin monkey and common squirrel monkeys.
While home to many of the characters one expects to see at a large zoo, including zebras and tigers, there are some unusual animals and activities that make Edinburgh Zoo unique. The zoo is the only one in the UK to feature koalas, and the two boy koalas are part of a breeding program that will allow the zoo to be the part of the international program that houses male koalas that are too young or too old to be currently involved in breeding. Adorable, wide-eyed bush babies Bobby and Beatrix are favorites to visit as well, and have successfully birthed four babies since 2009 at the zoo.
Critically endangered Eastern Bongos also call this zoo home, and while these three rainforest antelope were born in captivity, there is less than an estimated 200 of their cousins left in the wild. Viewing them is a special opportunity, and they are stunning creatures, with a chestnut coat, and white vertical stripes that break up the shape of their body to the eyes of a predator. There many predators in the wild are leopards, but habitat destruction, hunting, poaching, and deforestation are their biggest threats. Here at the zoo, they share their enclosure with red river hogs, animals found in their native range in East Africa.
Educational talks go on all day at the zoo, more than one an hour, and offer great personal accounts by keepers as well as some hands on interactions with particular animals. A few of the animals featured in the talk are the gelado baboons, the sun bears, chimpanzees and Indian Rhinos, another critically endangered animal. There are two young boy rhinos at the zoo, and their enrichment program includes toys and balls to keep their minds and bodies active. At lunchtime, it’s quite interesting to see the keepers get them to lie down for a foot check to make sure there are no tears that could cause them infection or discomfort. Soon, one of the two Indian rhino boys will be exchanged with a female from another accredited zoo in a breeding program.
While at Edinburgh Zoo, there is much to see and do, and one last thing not to miss is seeing them from the free, open air “hill top” safari. Equipped to handle up to three wheelchairs as well as 20 additional guests, this open air vehicle is a 30 minute ride to see many of the animals with an interpretive commentary by the driver, and it’s included in the price of admission.