Going to the zoo was always a treat as a kid — and still is for many of us adults! But beyond seeing cute critters is some serious research and conservation work. Dr. Alison Cotton, a lecturer in conservation science at The Bristol Zoo, talks about how this West Country’s zoo has major global impact.
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As an introduction to the great talks on offer we’re going to be previewing some of the most interesting here on the Mendeley Blog, featuring speakers from across all Pint of Science themes. You can follow along on our blog under the tag PintofScience17 or on Twitter under the hashtag #pint17.
Bristol Zoo: A Conservation Tale
As many of you walk past the lemurs or the penguins at Bristol Zoo, what you might not be aware of, is that a team of scientists are working behind the scenes to help conserve these amazing species, and many more besides. This is a very important element of the zoo’s mission, but many people are unaware of the conservation work that occurs beyond the animals on view at the zoo.
We have a great team that work on native species conservation, including those that work at the Avon Gorge and Downs, which is home to over 30 rare plants including many species endemic to the gorge, as well as bats, nesting peregrine falcons and Kashmir goats. Since the education programme for the Avon Gorge and Downs project started in 2001, almost 100,000 people have engaged with local Bristol wildlife on their doorstep. There is also a huge effort being undertaken to help protect the native white-clawed crayfish throughout the South West, as well as a team dedicated to tackling the spectre of invasive weeds, such as Himalayan balsam, in the Bristol area. Internationally, we work across the globe, in countries such as South Africa, Madagascar, Cameroon, Tanzania, Costa Rica, French Polynesia, The Comoros Islands and The Philippines.
The Penguin’s Progress
My work is in South Africa, where the charismatic African penguin has undergone a dramatic population decline of over 70% in the last 17 years, as overfishing and climate change have decimated the fish stocks on which they rely. Our work to date has focussed on supporting our partner organisation in Cape Town, SANCCOB, who rescue, rehabilitate and release penguin chicks, as part of our Chick Bolstering Project, that have been abandoned by parents that are in too poor condition to care for them (as a result of depleted fish stocks), as well as penguins caught in oil spills.
Giving these chicks a head start in life has been hugely successful, and the survival rates of released chicks have been shown to mirror those of parent-reared chicks. In addition, we are heavily involved in research work, including investigating the effect of temporary fishing bans around colonies near Cape Town, monitoring penguin populations on Robben Island and investigating options for the translocation of individuals into new colonies in regions where there are more substantial fish stocks. There is so much work to be done to fully understand this catastrophic decline in penguin numbers, and there is much more than we will be doing in the future, so watch this space!
Like lemurs for chocolate
In Madagascar, the biodiversity situation is dire, with between 80-90% of forests having already been lost to slash and burn agriculture, and with 94% of all lemur species, the charismatic and emblematic primates that are endemic to Madagascar, already threatened with extinction. The human population is very poor, with 92% of Malagasy people surviving on less than US$2 a day. Chocolate and vanilla are both important exports for Madagascar, and much effort is being done to encourage sustainable, under-canopy production methods that minimise negative effects on habitats and biodiversity.
Our team are in the field evaluating the biodiversity impact of different production methods in both cacao (chocolate) and vanilla crops. This will provide a scientific basis to move forward with those practices that promote biodiversity. In addition to this, we are heavily involved in long-term lemur and sacred ibis conservation projects, and reforestation efforts in Madagascar.
It is vitally important that zoos are more than just a source of public entertainment. We are committed to addressing the conservation issues that threatened species face, both in terms of captive breeding of threatened species, but also through our efforts to conserve species in situ, in their natural habitats. With your support, we are doing our best to maintain as much biodiversity as possible on this amazing planet.