Road Trip with a Difference as Zookeepers Collect New Arrivals for Conservation
In addition to human plans and activities, many important animal conservation programmes also had to be put on hold during lockdown. Now Milnthorpe’s Wildlife Oasis is catching up in style with a border-crossing trip to fetch not one but two endangered species for their award-winning breeding programmes.
“Education and conservation are at the heart of the zoo’s ethos,” confirms zoo manager Chris Lusby. “During lockdown we worked out how to keep in touch by partnering with local schools, and hosting in-enclosure Zoom broadcasts. But as members of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, it was frustrating to have to put years of careful research, partnership and planning on hold.”
Emerging from restrictions, an excited Chris and his team are currently criss-crossing Scotland picking up new passengers!
First, it’s off to Edinburgh Zoo to pick up a female cotton top tamarin to introduce to ‘Mr Spencer’, the mature lonely heart in the zoo’s popular bachelor group. Due to raging deforestation in their native Columbia, these charming miniature monkeys are one of the most endangered species in the world.
With fewer than 6,000 left in the wild, captive breeding programmes are essential for their survival. As cotton tops prefer to live in family groups, keepers have worked hard building the soon-to-be Mr and Mrs Spencer their very own ‘couples retreat’. This will also give visitors a new view of primate antics, in addition to the equally lively emperor tamarin enclosure overlooking the zoo café.
However, picking up Mrs Spencer marks only the first half of the keepers’ road trip. Heading to Camperdown Wildlife Park near Dundee, the team will collect two examples of Britain’s most elusive and endangered carnivore, the Scottish wildcat. These super-sized tabbies are a completely separate species from the family moggy: up to twice as big, with magnificently marked thick coats, long ringed tails, and a wild nature to match.
Extinct in England and Wales, and critically endangered in Scotland, just a few hundred remain in the highlands, with bloodlines threatened by domestic interbreeding. Oasis keepers are initially collecting two wildcat sisters, to be joined at a later date by males carefully selected from the Scottish wildcat studbook.
Setting the satnav, Chris is understandably thrilled: “Endangered wildlife doesn’t always mean big or exotic, like rhinos or the zoo’s own snow leopards- some British species are just as endangered, and just as stunning. More people have seen a lion in the flesh than a Scottish wildcat, so introducing these magnificent felines to the zoo for the first time will give many people a unique opportunity.
“After a tough eighteen months for everyone, being able to introduce and educate visitors close-up with endangered cotton tops and wildcats feels like a new, forward-looking chapter in the zoo’s ongoing legacy. And, of course, we’ve everything crossed for the future patter of tiny paws!”
The Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is open every day, with advance booking recommended as part of social distancing entry guidelines. To keep up to date with all new arrivals and animal antics, see www.wildlifeoasis.co.uk, ‘Lakeland Wildlife Oasis’ on Facebook.