A Day at Edinburgh Zoo
A Day at Edinburgh Zoo
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
This forward thinking and pioneering zoo opened its gates in 1913 and is located just three miles west of the city centre in the suburb of Corstorphine.
The Zoo's ever more important and urgent mission is ‘to inspire and excite our visitors with the wonder of living animals, and so to promote the conservation of threatened species and habitats’.
The Zoo is spread over 82 acres of lovely parkland and is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, a non-profit organisation. It’s the second most popular paid-for attraction in Scotland (after the Castle) and remains the only zoo in the UK to have giant pandas and koalas. Its patron is Princess Anne.
If you think you know what a ‘zoo’ is - it’s time to think again! With its unrelenting and laser-like focus on conservation, breeding programmes and education, coupled with an unwavering commitment to animal welfare, it is perhaps more correct to think of this zoo as a much needed ‘ark’, without which the fragile light of animal and habitat conservation would greatly diminish, right around the globe.
The old idea of a zoo, being just a place of entertainment to look at animals, is today long gone and the purpose of a modern zoo - conservation, education and research - has evolved a long way since Victorian times. Edinburgh Zoo has in fact had a superb education department since the 1970s and today its educational role is every bit as important as its valuable conservation work, both in Scotland and around the world. The Zoo ultimately aims to educate people on the fragility of the natural world and our collective responsibility to preserve and protect it.
With increasing habitat destruction from an ever-growing world population and commercial exploitation (highly complex problems), we desperately need conservation charities, like this one, more than ever - but will it be enough to save the tiger, rhino or even the lion? Zoos will always have their critics, which can sometimes be a good check on welfare practices, but please never doubt the commitment and passion everybody at this zoo has for preserving and conserving wildlife, in every corner of the globe, for future generations.
The Zoo was recently involved in training scientists in Vietnam in how to use rhino horn DNA tests, to help fight the illegal trade in rhino horn. It’s thought that the number of rhinos being poached is close to outnumbering the ones being born, making it only a matter of time before this species becomes extinct. The sobering truth is that a lot of species, like the rhino, are now a great deal safer in a zoo than they are in the wild - and soon - zoos may be the only places we ever see them.
A great illustration of the Zoo’s commitment to working with and conserving animals in the wild is its varied conservation programmes around the world; the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda and the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in Brazil being great examples. The Zoo also has a dedicated WildGenes science lab, which studies animal genomes to improve the management and survival of endangered species right here in Scotland and around the world. The lab is currently playing a big role in preserving genetic diversity in Scottish wildcat populations right here in the Scottish Highlands. Further afield, the Zoo also supports projects to conserve Pallas’s cats and Arabian sand cats. If you want to find out more about the Zoo's conservation projects around the world, visit their blog at www.rzss.wordpress.com.
Highlights of a visit to the zoo include:
The Zoo is home to two gorgeous giant pandas, a male called Yang Guang (‘Sunshine’) and a female called Tian Tian (‘Sweetie’). The pandas are on loan from China for a period of ten years and it’s hoped that there will, one day soon, be heard the pitter patter of tiny panda feet! Due to their popularity viewing places are sometimes limited. Book tickets online at least 24 hours before visiting.
The Penguins Parade
The Zoo was the first in the world to house and breed penguins and their wonderful pool, 'Penguins Rock’, with bridge and underwater viewing area is a huge favourite. Amazingly, one of the King penguins, Sir Nils Olav, has a knighthood from Norway and is the official mascot and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard! The world famous ‘Penguins Parade' takes place at 2.15 p.m. every day, providing they feel like coming out - it's entirely voluntary!
One of the zoo's newest and biggest exhibits is the state-of-the-art Sumatran tiger enclosure. It features an amazing ground level viewing tunnel, an environmentally enriched enclosure and a new indoor house for the tigers. There are thought to be less than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, so go along and show your support for these incredibly beautiful animals - or ever better - why not adopt one?
This state-of-the-art building, named after the Budongo Forest in Uganda, was purpose built to house and observe a troop of chimpanzees. The Zoo is the national centre for behavioural research into primates and this dedicated centre contains a huge outdoor area and three separate indoor areas for the chimps to enjoy. The centre sponsors a conservation field station in the Ugandan Budongo Forest to study and look after chimps in the wild.
If you love small animals, the brand new 'Wee Beasties' exhibition is for you. This is a wonderful indoor centre for lots of fascinating species including reptiles, amphibians and insects. The exhibitions highlights the importance of these small animals and the hugely important role they play in biodiversity. Live educational talks and animal handling take place throughout the week - please check website for times.
Koala Territory is home to Goonaroo, Yabbra and Alinga - the UK's only Koalas. They have their very own special exhibit complete with indigenous artwork and a Eucalyptus garden.
Keepers hold regular daily talks and educational shows all around the park. These are highly informative, but also lots of fun, especially for children.
The Zoo has several good restaurants, cafes and coffee shops and is also the ideal place for a summer picnic in the beautiful grounds. It’s important to note that the Zoo is built on the side of Corstorphine Hill and requires a reasonable level of fitness to get to the top. The climb is certainly worth it, with great views of the city and Pentland Hills. To help get to the top, there’s a regular hilltop safari bus, which is ideal for those with mobility problems or with very young children. There is also a dedicated mobility vehicle which can be booked on arrival.
The zoo also runs the superb Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie in the Scottish highlands. Find out more about this wonderful park at www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk.
Edinburgh Zoo is open every day (except Christmas Day) and is located at 134 Corstorphine Road EH12 6TS. The zoo is easily reached from the city centre by buses 12, 26 and 31, which stop opposite the Zoo entrance. Visit www.edinburghzoo.org.uk for more details.
If you're visiting Edinburgh for the weekend, why not join me on a special Tour of Edinburgh, or learn more about your camera on my Edinburgh Photography Tour. Please Email me to book or call me directly on 07400 705 357.
134 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 6TS