Tag Archives: animals

The Panda Craze

The piteously extravagant and undeserved media and public hype over the breeding of Edinburgh Zoo’s two giant Pandas, Tian Tian and her prospective mate Yang Guang, is a cause for worry and concern. Especially at a time when we have witnessed a tragic blaze at Five Sister’s zoo in West Lothian killing a substantial number of reptiles and other animals including 11 meerkats. People seemed not too bothered by these events yet any news about Tian Tian and her oestrogen levels and we quickly turn to our screens. The BBC have now featured the sensationalised scrutiny of the panda breeding in their headlines alongside more justifiable stories, in terms of news values, like the capturing of the man suspected of being responsible for the Boston Bombings and the Earthquake in China killing more than 150 people.

Artificial insemination has been carried out on Tian Tian following a week when hormones showed she was approaching her 36-hour fertile period. In a desperate and almost forlorn attempt to get the Zoo’s most popular creatures breeding, it is telling of British Society’s very needless obsession with pandas. A grassroots campaigning animals charity, Scotland for Animals said the drive to breed Tian Tian is a a purely ‘financial and commercial’ project with the intention of ‘increasing visiting numbers to the zoo’. Scotland for Animals underwent a campaign to expose the ‘lies’ of Edinburgh Zoo who, they feel, hide the commercial implication of their actions behind a blanket emphasising ‘a conservation effort’.

Once entering the official website for the Zoo one can’t help but notice a special section dedicated to buying tickets to visit the Pandas, alongside a link to the  pandacam. Even when contacting the zoo the first thing they say is to visit the website if your inquiry is connected to visiting the giant pandas. Now it’s almost impossible to contact the Zoo unless it’s an emergency inquiry because of the melodramatic amount of international attention driven towards the sex life of these sexually uninterested, animals. You can’t get away from these black and white, bamboo-eating bears. When they first arrived in 2011, loaned by the Bifengxia Breeding Centre in China, massive cheering crowds gathered as they were driven to the gates, in a spectacle as exaggerated and pathetic as the opening of Krispy Kremes in February. The media flocked like a pack of birds to the airport desperately awaiting their arrival as if they didn’t have anything else important to report on. A costly, specially-refurbished VIP enclosure was created for these celebrities as they were taken down the ‘red carpet’ into the zoo’s grand entrance. Moreover, this move signifies a wider socio-economic, cultural and political deal between the Scottish and Chinese Governments, representing the culmination of five years of political and diplomatic negotiation at the highest level. Pandas are,therefore, not just animals but ambassadors to China,and symbols of international diplomacy at the greatest standard.

The question to ask is why this intensive publicity and hype? Perhaps it’s because pandas are an endangered species, a rare and valued Chinese national treasure, meaning complete and utter precedence over every other animal in the country. There are only 1,600 of them in the wild, and around 300 in captivity. we perhaps because they are simply endearing and pleasant to look at? If 158 million people like a video of a panda sneezing on Youtube then surely they safely tick the ‘cute’ box? A more plausible reason maybe that Edinburgh is home to the only two giant pandas in the UK, surely such a rarity on our Island will inevitably give way to mass appeal and attention? Or is it something more intricate and deeper, as Henry Nicholls, author of The Way of the Panda explains, it maybe  due to their almost baby-like features with their flat face, large eyes and clumsy nature.

The panda craze illustrates wider issues to do with journalism in today’s world. If there is such international and domestic fascination and excitement over the news of two pandas breeding does it qualify as important news? The acute distinction between ‘of the public interest’ and ‘in the public interest’ should be addressed. This story is quite clearly of the public interest but not in the interest of the public. In terms of generating mass political debate and changing the face and structure of countries for decades to come, the pandas are not in the same league as the conflict in Syria or the global financial recession for example.

However, as symbols of international relations, and subjects of mass tourism, marketing, merchandise and general (and genuine) adoration, these creatures will continue to attract special journalistic heed, News and the Zoo is a business, business is commercial and commercial is about selling. The Tian Tian and Yang Guang show is to go on for a while yet.

Interview with Scotland for Animals

Guinea pig sets new world record

New record: Truffles makes a daring leap Video: YouTube/ The Courier

A Scots guinea pig has joined the ranks of many animal stars from across the world to break a record in the Guiness Book of World Records 2013.

Truffles, from Rosyth, Fife, jumped 30cm (12in) smashing the previous record held by London rodent Diesel who cleared a gap of 20.5cm (8.07in) in 2009. He has had his feat confirmed by the record breaking institution and will take part in a publicity for the launch of the latest edition of the book.

Thirteen year old Chloe Macari trained her pet to leap the distance after being inspired by Disney film, G-Force, in which  a group of  guinea pigs become special agents of the FBI.

“I had two shoe boxes and these cushions between them for safety,” the youngster explained. “We kept moving the shoe boxes further and further apart. We started at around 15cm and he was quite good. He got to 20cm and then 25cm very quickly, within a few weeks.”

The giant leap was filmed to ensure the record could be approved.

UK’s new polar bear sparks controversy

Walker, the new addition to the Highland Wildlife Park

By Emma Smith

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is facing criticism after Britain’s second polar bear arrived at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig.

Walker, a 23 month old cub was transported from Rhenen Zoo in Holland and arrived at his new home in Inverness-shire last night.

The news is not being welcomed by some animal protection groups as it has been said by some that Mercedes should be the last ever polar bear kept in a UK zoo.

The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) have announced their concern at another polar bear being introduced into captivity in Britain.

Campaign Director Craig Redmond says:  “We are very concerned they have brought in a new polar bear and we fear it may encourage other zoos to do the same. It is like they have taken a step back 20 years as all other UK zoos have now stopped keeping polar bears.”

He said the organisation are now questioning the motives of Mercedes move to the Highland Wildlife Park from Edinburgh Zoo last year:

“Mercedes move to a more suitable enclosure came after years and years of complaints and while it was welcomed, no enclosure will ever be suitable. Now we are asking if Mercedes would have been moved at all if it was not their intention to bring in more bears for breeding all along. We think it was a plan to avoid the criticism they would receive for building an enclosure specifically for breeding purposes.”

Mercedes, 28, moved North last year and has been living solitary for the last thirteen years after her mate Barney died after choking on a plastic toy which was thrown into their enclosure.

Animal Collection Manager for the Highland Park, Douglas Richardson, says: “Walker arrived last night and he was let into the enclosure this morning. Mercedes was not that impressed but she had just woken up and found a stranger in her home.”

He is hopeful that the move will help conserve the species of this threatened animal.

“The polar bear European Endangered Species Programme coordinates the movement of animals around European zoo collections as part of the breeding programme. The decisions for these moves are largely based on the quality of the enclosures, and having one of the largest polar bear enclosures in the world I am pleased to say that Highland Wildlife Park was top of the list for Walker’s new home”.

It is hoped Walker will be able to start breeding in three years time when he is old enough but it will not be with Mercedes.

CAPS have also criticised the intention to breed the animals, saying: “there is no purpose breeding any species in a zoo. They are bred in order to continue captive populations- that’s not conservation.”

There are currently 20-25,000 polar bears living in the wild and although they are not currently endangered, their future is uncertain due to climate change.

Scientists have previously noted that zoos, on average, provide one million times less space for polar bears than their natural home ranges.

Zoo Comes Under Fire for Cull of Piglets

By Emma Smith

Edinburgh Zoo is facing a public backlash after their culling of two healthy Red River hog piglets was revealed on Wednesday.

Sammi and Becca play together at Edinburgh Zoo

Sammi and Becca were born as part of a breeding programme in August of last year but the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) recommended the animals to be put down due to a surplus of the species.

The piglets were euthanised humanely at the beginning of this year and there are now fears for the three remaining piglets, Ellis, Moses and Nelson, although the zoo has said it intends to keep them as long as is viable.

The birth of these rare piglets was advertised by the zoo last summer, which has caused anger among many people, including animal rights organisation One Kind – formerly Advocates for Animals.

Policy Director, Libby Anderson, says: “It’s a really depressing story. This is an iconic case of why zoos are not as good as they say they are.

“The public paid money to go and see these cute and playful babies but what they didn’t realise was that they were destined to be put down.

“All pigs are very intelligent and have individual characteristics, thoughts and feelings. Doesn’t their life have a value?”

The population of the Red River hog is in decline in its native Africa due to hunting. One Kind believe educating the huntsmen is the way forward, not taking part in captive breeding programmes, which ultimately result in culling surplus animals.

The hogs, also known as bush pigs, can live for up to 20 years and in their natural habitat live near swamps and marshes.

Edinburgh Zoo issued a statement saying: “If a species does not have breeding recommendation for the EEP, the EEP will advise the culling rather than re-homing of a species.

“As a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, it is imperative that the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland complies with the recommendations given.”

They also added that the reason the hogs were not prevented from breeding was to  “ensure the animals in our collection lead as natural a life as possible.”

Culling of unwanted young is a common practice among zoos, although frequency and exact details are not always known. In May 2006 the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig came under fire when a pack of Mackenzie River wolves were culled because they were not displaying their natural behaviour.

Fireworks terror for Scotland’s animals

by Emma Cameron


As the firework season gets underway and the showery weather continues across the country, the Scottish SPCA is urging worried pet owners to contact their local MSP and back the Society’s proposals for a change to the laws on the sale of fireworks and their unlicensed use in public.

At present, fireworks can be used in public on any day of the year between the hours of 07.00 and 23.00 GMT, with the laws further relaxed around major occasions such as 5 November and New Year’s Eve.

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn explained that it’s not a total ban on fireworks that the charity wants to see, but a restriction on the days it’s legal to use fireworks and they are calling out for tighter laws on the sale of rockets and catherine wheels.

He said to Edinburgh Napier that: “Because the current legislation is so relaxed, fireworks can and are being set off on any given day and for weeks and months on end rather than being limited to the major festival periods. This leaves pet owners unable to make adequate safety provisions for their animals.”

Scotland’s animal welfare charity is being inundated with reports of animals being seriously injured as a result of the terrifying sounds of fireworks. This week, a cat in Ayrshire had to be put down after a group of youths strapped a firework to its back and set it alight.

In addition to changing the law on when fireworks can be used, which is devolved to the Scottish Government, the SSPCA is pushing for changes on when they can be sold, legislation which is reserved to Westminster. At present, fireworks can be sold from 15 October to 10 November, from 26 to 31 December and on the days of Chinese New Year and Diwali and the three preceding days.

Chief Superintendant Flynn added: “Clearly our primary concern is the safety and wellbeing of domestic and wild animals, but we believe these proposals, if successful, would also have a real human benefit and assist the emergency services, particularly around the ever challenging month of November.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is also reminding people to take care with bonfires and fireworks. Nicola Butters, RoSPA’s home safety development officer in Scotland, said: “Whether you’ll be setting off fireworks in the run up to November 5, on Thursday itself or at the weekend, it’s important that you think in advance about how you’re going to keep everyone safe.”

The SSPCA is encouraging MSPs to take action on the responsibility of the use of fireworks, to safeguard both animals and people. An SNP spokesperson said to Edinburgh Napier News that: “We will continue to act on irresponsible use of fireworks, which is a misery and a blight on the lives of the vast majority of the population and also of course particularly affects pet owners. It is simply Anti-Social behaviour and although I think the situation has improved we must be vigilant on this issue.”

The SSPCA recommends that during the firework season:

  • All pets should be kept indoors after dark, including animals in outdoor hutches.
  • Curtains should be closed and televisions and radios left on to mask the sounds of fireworks.
  • Anyone planning a display, particularly in rural areas, should warn their neighbours in advance.
  • Bonfires should be checked for signs of hibernating hedgehogs.
  • Telephone our Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999 if you know of animals suffering due to fireworks.

And for humans, remember to:

  • Plan your firework display to make it safe and enjoyable
  • Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks
  • Never return to a firework once it has been lit
  • Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators
  • Never use paraffin or petrol on a bonfire
  • Make sure that the fire is out and surroundings are made safe before leaving.

See www.saferfireworks.com for more tips on planning a safe party.