Edinburgh Zoo

About three miles from the city centre in the west of Edinburgh lies Edinburgh Zoo, sitting on Corstorphine Hill. There have been wild animals roaming this part of the city for nearly two centuries.

Zoological Gardens

The site of today’s zoo was actually build on the grounds of the old Edinburgh Zoological Gardens. This was a bit of a failed project. The zoological gardens were blasted for their terrible, cramped living conditions and the poor treatment and health of the animals – many of which died during their time there. It was founded in 1838 and was home to lions, bears, and even elephants. Edinburgh can prove to be a difficult location for homing wild animals, due to the weather conditions, and clearly the EZG didn’t really think this through. The world at this time was not well equipped as today in caring for animals either, so there was no standard to follow. As disease constantly struck the zoo in the late 1850s, it was forced to close.

The zoo today was brought about by the founding of the National Zoological Society of Scotland by Thomas Haining Gillespie, in 1909. Initially they found it difficult to finance the project, but were soon helped out by Edinburgh City Council – who purchased the estate on Corstorphine Hill, the same hill that was previously the location of the zoological gardens. They rented it out to the group, taking 4% ownership of the zoo in the process.

The design for the new zoo was based on the successful Zoological Gardens Stellingen Zoo, in Hamburg – which had a reputation for the good care and conditions of its animals. Penguins were one of the first animals to arrive, three of them, following an expedition in the South Atlantic. They arrived at Leith docks in February 1914, and have become possibly the zoos most famous animal. At the time of their arrival, they were the first ever penguins to be seen outside of the South Atlantic.

Some quick numbers….there is just over 1,000 animals in the zoo, with around 127 different species. Receiving between 600,000 to 700,000 annual visitors between them. Around 84-acres of land is where the zoo is spread over.

The zoo has had various types of animals over the years. Giraffes lived here, though one died after the zoo was bombed during world war two. The last giraffe, Jade, was put down in 2003. A soviet union adopted bear, Wojtek, also lived here. He was one of the mascots of the Soviet Army during world war two, and spend the last few years of his life in the park. The Highland Wildlife Park polar bear was originally homed at Edinburgh Zoo too- but the larger exhibit in Kincraig was thought to be better conditions, and in 2009 Mercedes the Polar Bear departed for the highlands.

Photos: Wojtek the Bear, and Sally the Elephant with Giraffes Adam& Eve, Wojtek the Bear, and founder Thomas Gillespie with penguin (photos courtesy of the Times, heraldScotland and the Daily Mail)

Edinburgh Zoo today continues to be home to be a wide variety of attractions for visitors to enjoy today, including the Meerkat Plaza, the Koala territory, Tiger Tracks, and the Bundongo Trail, while the Giant Panda, all the way form China, has overtaking the Penguin in being the zoos widely featured animal.


Meerkat Plaza

As you come into the zoo you’ll be greeted almost immediately by the Meerkats, with Meerkat Plaza directly facing the entrance to the park. Part of the Mongoose Family, there is plenty of them. That is done to the fact the upright-standing animals operate in gangs of between 25-30 members. These clans can often be called groups, gangs, or mobs. We will call them gangs.

The numbers, alongside their excellent teamwork skills, made them a difficult opponent for predators, and good hunters. Looking at their diet, they will generally eat all kinds of insects, aswell as small mammals and amphibian. Large birds of prey, predominantly eagles, are the main threat to Meerkats. Snakes have also been known to enjoy a meerkat.

The numbers in the gangs could actually prove to be a disadvantage, as surely these birds/snakes would fancy themselves to get at-least one out of thirty or one from twenty-five. Being small though, the meerkats will be able to scramble back into their burrows pretty fast to be fair.

The numbers in the gangs could actually prove to be a disadvantage, as surely these birds/snakes would fancy themselves to get at-least one out of thirty or one from twenty-five. Being small though, the meerkats will be able to scramble back into their burrows pretty fast to be fair.


Wallaby Outback

Found midway up the hill. The park hosts many swamp wallabies and they come in small and medium sizes, and are notable for being almost identical to kangaroos- also native to Australia, and part of the same family. There is a big difference in size with Kangaroos being much larger. Wallaby’s have powerful hind legs, primarily used for running (fast) and jumping (high), and fighting (defensively).

As far as humans are concerned- a clean kick to the shins is generally the main fear, and this fear in itself can actually cause this. However, Wallaby’s are very stupid animals, and would be highly unlikely to distribute precise kicks, nor understand what a shin is. The bulky and man-like upper-body of a wallaby should make them an excellent hunter, and defender, but due to their sheer stupidity this seems to elude them.

Wallaby’s go by the names of a boomer (a male), a flyer (a female), and a joey (a baby). The babies are very very small and often travel around in their mothers pouch. If you see one at the zoo then your very very lucky.


Tiger Tracks

Home to a the powerful Sumartran Tiger, Jambi, this is a large and complex enclosure. There are tracks, with lead to various different points- including a glass covered tunnel, and a treehouse-like observation deck. Around 500k was the costs of the upgrade, with the tiger enjoying more room, a new pond, new climbing frames, and a new hut. Edinburgh zoo has an excellent live feed setup.

The Sumartran tigers are native only to the Island of Sumatra, which is part of Indonesia. They have thick orange and black coats, with are very narrow to compliment their style of being ambush predators. They are known as one of the smallest of the tigers subspecies. Despite this, they are very loud and can be heard more than 2 miles away. They can live upto 15 years in the wild, and almost double that within the captive breeding programmes of certain zoos.

These subspecies of tigers are becoming very rare – and currently embroiled in a desperate battle against extinction. Edinburgh zoo brought in Jambi and Baginda, and were hoping that they could go on and produce cubs, as part of their Big Cat Strategy. Jambi, who came from England via Berlin, remains in tiger tracks. However, Baginda was put down at the end of 2017 due to long-term health issues.

(photo courtesy of EdinburghZoo)

Asiatic Lions

It was in July 2012 that Edinburgh Zoo would welcome its first Lion. An Indian Asiatic male lion, named Jayendra, would arrive from Bristol Zoo- where he was born in 2010. Jayendra would be joined by a female lioness, Roberta, in late 2014. Roberta arrived from Magdeburg Zoo in Germany where she was born just a year before.

As for the lions themselves, they originally are native to India, having been previously exclusive to Africa. They are believed to have wandered over to India several thousand years ago, there is only very small numbers of them today and they are largely held, and heavily protected, in the Gir National Park in central India. These Asiatic lions are slightly smaller than African ones, but otherwise there is little to separate the two.

Like all Lions they will live in whats called a pride- which generally consists of upto two males, a dozen females, and their lion cubs. The Lions are the only members of the cat family to live in groups. Their roar is perhaps the most unique part of the ancient Lion- as it can be heard (in some cases) more than five miles away. In terms of their diet they will generally eat anything- though in the wild are known for particularly targeting zebra’s and deer.

In comparison tot heir close and fierce relatives, the Tiger, the Lions are slightly smaller and slower- and will live less (12 years in the wild) than their stripped counterpart (15 years). There has been occasions in Africa where Lions and tigers have inter-breeded, and these hybrids are known as ligers and tigons (pictured left, courtesy of Peta)- and can often be deformed.

(photo courtesy of Edinburgh Zoo)

Koala Territory

Its a widely known ‘fact’ that Koala’s can only live in Australia. Of course this is not true, as there are two living here in Edinburgh. The teddybear-looking animals can be found in the Koala Territory- home to Goonaroo, Alinga and Tanami. It can be frustrating, as they largely spend their time sitting in the tree facing the wall. They known to sleep upto 20 hours per day, so that’s most likely what they are doing – although they do occasionally (and briefly) have a glance towards their visitors.

They eat ridiculous amounts of leafs, although this is also where they get the majority of their water from too. They have access to unlimited leafs given the have very sharp claws which allow them to c;limb any tree at will. In similarity to humans they have the same method of identification via their fingerprints- which are each different to another.

Scientists have conducted a few experiments on koalas in the past. One experiment, in which thermal cameras were used- demonstrated how the koalas will hug trees in order to cool down.

(photo courtesy of EdinburghZoo)

Penguin Rocks

One of the animals that the zoo is most prominent for homing, is Penguins. The large enclosure holds three different types of penguins- the king penguin, the Gentoo penguin, and the Rock-hopper penguin. You can tell the difference by simply using their common nicknames of Blackhead (King), Whitestrip (Gentoo) and Spikie (Rock-hopper).

The penguin parade takes place daily, usually in the afternoon. It is based upon an escape event that took place here many years ago. It was a zookeeper who had left the gates to Penguin rock open- allowing the Penguins to escape in the process. Luckily for the zookeeper, the Penguins simply waddled around the picnic area and back into Penguins Rock. A charming tale, in what is otherwise a fairly underwhelming event.

https://inhistoricscotland.org/penguins-rock/


The Budongo Trail

One on the newest enclosures at the zoo, the Budongo Trail opened to visitors in 2008. It is a very extensive and a modern high-tech enclosure, built to represent the chimpanzees natural forest habitat. The chimps have a choice of several living areas, with each area being set up differently- to match the conditions of different parts of the forest they would ordinarily be living in. These different conditions include differences in temperature and humidity.

Louis, David, Qafzeh, Liberius, Lucy, Kilimi, Rene, Paul, Frek, Sophie, Lianne, Heleen, Eva, Edith, Velu and Tupelo- these are the 16 chimps that live here. Given they have 98% of our DNA, they’ll be plenty of characters in there. All chimps are Omnivore animals (animals who eat plants & other animals), and its interesting to see one specific animal on their menu. A popular figure.

Hey Hey its the Monkeys (again) (Just in time for a snack, says the Chimps). Its the Red Colobus Monkeys that seem to be the favourable selection, and its not a Monkey v Chimp ‘fight’ either – if caught these monkeys get absolutely annihilated. Simply grabbing their small arms/legs and smashing them against the ground a few times would be enough. (you would imagine)

They are quite damaging to the Colobus population, with around 15% of all Red Colobus deaths in the last 30 years caused by Chimpanzees. They eat the brain of our old chums first – as it holds the most nutrients. There jaws are powerful enough to crack the monkey’s skull. Chimps have even been known to hunt Baboons before. Largely targeting the babies as its only small animals they tend to eat.


Giant Panda

They may look cute and cuddly, but Giant Pandas are powerful beasts – weighting in at more than 220 pounds (about 16 stone), and upto 6 feet tall. These animals, a national symbol of China, have been around in the ancient country for more than a million years. However, they are very endangered- with less than a thousand currently existing today. This largely comes from the fact there is only one day in a whole year, that female pandas can mate naturally. Though they can live upto 30 years, so there is plenty time.

There is a blatantly made-up story of how the Pandas came about having their colours. China will often tell the story of how the Giant Pandas were originally an all brown bear. Legend has it the brown bear was fighting with a wild tiger, when a young girl approached, and attempted to help the panda cub. Unlucky for her though (and her parents) as the tiger instead turned its attentions towards her, and killed her. The cubs parents decided to honour the girl by attending her funeral. Wearing all black the panda’s would cry relentlessly. Wiping their faces with their black armbands, the smudges would be permanent.

In terms of here at Edinburgh Zoo, you’ll have to get here early if you want to really see them- as they tend to sleep all day. On a final note, because of their low numbers, and special place in China, all Giant Pandas around the world are only ‘on loan’. They can cost more than a million per year.

(Panda photos courtesy of Edinburgh Zoo)

Lemur Exhibit

Known as the family Prosimians, the Lemurs are native only to the famous island of Madagascar in Africa, where they are considered the national animal. Incredibly, their is 105 species of them. They used to be found in other parts of the continent, however the monkeys have seen them off over the years. Their name in facts means ‘spirit of the night’, which is bizarre as they are only active in daylight. All of the Lemurs are omnivore animals, eating only fruit and leaves, plants and small insects.

The beautiful tail of the lemur is their most notable feature and it is in fact bigger than themselves, coming in between 18 and 22 inches (compared to their bodies at around 15 inches). This tail is not just for appearance either- it can be used as a form of communication- being whipped in the air and used as a scent. Another notably unique aspect of the Lemurs is that they are the only primates in the world known to hibernate. They don’t have a specific period for this, instead they tend to use it as a secret weapon for survival- when their is no food for example. Socially these ring-tailed lemurs operate in groups, known as a troop. These troops are dominated by a single female and tend to be around 10-15 in numbers.

There is a small family of Ring-Tailed Lemurs here at the park, and a few crowned lemurs. The new enclosure, which opened in 2015, allows visitors to walk into the enclosure and get up close with the endangered species.


Honourable Mentions

The Monkeys

For abit more on Monkeys in Scotland, visit- inhistoricscotland.org/monkeybusiness

All monkeys photos above courtesy of Edinburgh Zoo.

Black Stork

(photo courtesy of EdinburghZoo)


Chilean Flamingo


Chinese Goral

(photo courtesy of EdinburghZoo)


The Zebra


Buff-Cheeked Gibbon


25 Photos of Edinburgh Zoo


People forget the good that zoos do. If it werent for zoos, we would have so many species exstinct today.

Betty White

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