Conservation Optimism for 2021

Image of a hornbill Image of a hornbill

​Monday January 18 has been dubbed ‘Blue Monday’ – allegedly the most depressing day of the year – but our conservationists say we have plenty to be optimistic about.

Exciting progress is being made by Bristol Zoological Society on critical conservation projects helping to protect threatened species and habitats around the world.

Dr Grainne McCabe, Head of Field Conservation and Science, said: “It’s been a difficult 12 months for everyone, but we have still progressed with many of our conservation projects and we are full of hope for the difference we can continue to make in this New Year.”

She added: “The pandemic has given us all a new appreciation for how fragile the world can be and we are more aware than ever before of the value of nature, our connection to it, and the need to care for our planet in a more intensive way.

“We are optimistic that this realisation will have a lasting effect, not only in our day to day lives, but also at a higher level, with world leaders more aware of the need to make effective, long-term policies on issues such as international wildlife trade and the need for secure, but sustainable, supplies of food for communities around the world to help make a long-term, positive change.”

Here we look at some of our flagship conservation projects and why we have good reason for conservation optimism in 2021. 

Protecting threatened species in Equatorial Guinea

A new effort to monitor wildlife in central Rio Muni, Equatorial Guinea, has resulted in amazing camera trap images of rare and threatened species deep in the tropical forest.

Our field team is currently in Monte Alén National Park finalising the set up of a camera trap array, with 32 in total due to be operational by the end of next month. Camera traps trigger automatically based on movement.

Whilst in the forest, the team has been retrieving memory cards from existing cameras. Newly downloaded images show a family of African forest elephants, including an inquisitive youngster looking right into the camera and apparently sniffing it.

The photos are a good sign for the population of wild forest elephants as it shows a new generation has been born and appears to be thriving.

“Levels of hunting inside the protected area are very high and so we have always been very concerned about the risk to a number of species living in this area”, said Dr McCabe.

She said the photographs were crucial in helping to establish a conservation plan for the park. Dr McCabe added: “We will be able to work alongside the national park to find areas where patrols should be targeted to prevent illegal hunting for example.”

The photos were taken by a series of cameras set up by conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society and the University of West of England (UWE Bristol).

Last year, wild western lowland gorillas were pictured in the area for the first time in more than a decade on further camera traps set up by BZS.

Reforestation efforts for lemurs in Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the world’s most important hotspots for biodiversity. Bristol Zoological Society works to protect threatened lemurs and other at-risk species, and their habitats, in north-west Madagascar.

The Society has recently been awarded funding to continue its work protecting lemur species which live in trees planted to provide shade for cacao plantations.

In addition, the Bristol Zoological Society team is continuing to evaluate reforestation efforts inside Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park, its long-term field site.

This year they hope to create a permanent tree nursery to grow saplings and help establish natural corridors for lemur species such as the blue-eyed black lemur and Sahamalaza sportive lemur”

The aim is to help bridge gaps and encourage lemurs to move between the forest fragments within the national park to develop larger areas and allow growth of lemur populations.

UK native species conservation

Conservation efforts to save the UK’s native white-clawed crayfish from extinction continue to go from strength to strength.

Bristol Zoological Society recently completed the restoration of an old, overgrown pond on the outskirts of Bristol to provide a safe, new habitat for endangered crayfish to breed.

The precise location of the new pond is being kept under wraps to ensure the crayfish can live undisturbed.

It is the latest step in a programme involving experts from Bristol Zoo which began more than a decade ago. The aim is to bolster the dwindling numbers of crayfish which are at risk of becoming extinct in Britain within 20 years.

White-clawed crayfish are under threat of extinction due to the spread of invasive American signal crayfish, which compete for food and habitat and carry crayfish plague – a disease which is deadly to white-clawed crayfish.  

This disease can be easily spread by people on damp boots, fishing tackle and nets. As a result, there has been a 70 per cent decline in numbers of the UK’s only native crayfish species in south west England. 

BZS has now established 19 safe refuge or ‘ark sites’ for native white-clawed crayfish across the south west of England.

Bristol Zoological Society’s white clawed crayfish project is kindly supported by Enovert and Bristol Water. 

Halting the spread of invasive species in the UK

Bristol Zoological Society has recently employed a full time UK Biosecurity Officer as part of its ongoing effort to tackle invasive species in order to protect UK native species.

It has also established the AQUA biosecurity accreditation scheme – a regional pilot trial, run in conjunction with South West Water and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, through RAPID LIFE, an EU LIFE project. 

This project is designed to help reduce the spread of invasive species within the UK. Working with fisheries, angling and boating clubs and other water managers, Bristol Zoological Society and its partners are working to increase awareness of the threat of invasive species and encourage positive biosecurity behaviour, such as cleaning and drying all clothing and equipment used in local waterways after every use.

So far the team has worked with 60 water bodies throughout south west England, with the majority gaining a Bronze AQUA Award for their biosecurity efforts.

Monitoring Critically Endangered giraffe in Cameroon

Bénoué National Park in Northern Cameroon is home to an extraordinary range of mammals and birds; in particular it is one of the few remaining strongholds of Kordofan giraffe.

Kordofan giraffe are one of nine giraffe subspecies and the situation facing them in the wild is challenging. It is estimated that as few as 2,000 Kordofan giraffe may be left in Africa, out of a total giraffe population of about 80,000.

Bristol Zoological Society works closely with park authorities and the local Conservation Service to reduce threats such as poaching and habitat loss.

In order to help preserve this park as a sanctuary for giraffe and other wildlife, Bristol Zoological Society sponsored 1,000 eco-guard days throughout 2020, enabling the local Conservation Service to counter multiple illegal invasions into the park.

This work will continue into 2021. In order to monitor the Bénoué giraffe population, the team uses camera traps within the park to help us individually identify giraffes using their unique spot patterns.

Protecting rare species of the Philippines

The Philippines are considered to be one of the world’s most diverse biodiversity hotspots because of the amazing variety of wildlife there. Yet 50% of the country’s forests have been cut down, mainly to grow crops.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Bristol Zoological Society has been able to continue supporting its team of rangers on the West Visayas island of Panay.

The team of rangers carry out patrols to safeguard the unique biodiversity of this island, as well as deploying camera traps to survey threatened species such as the Critically Endangered Negros bleeding-heart dove. Recent camera trap images have also shown the presence of Visayan warty pigs, a positive sign for this Critically Endangered species.

How you can help

Bristol Zoological Society is a registered charity which owns and runs Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project. The Society also directs 14 field conservation projects in 10 countries that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered species.

Bristol Zoological Society relies on income from visitors and supporters to carry out this important conservation work.

During the first national lockdown, the Society launched an appeal to help ensure the future of its work ‘saving wildlife together’. As the third lockdown gets underway, this appeal continues to be vital to help safeguard its future.

To find out more about the appeal, or to make a donation, visit our appeal page.

For the latest news and animal updates, subscribe to our newsletters and follow our Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project Facebook pages.

Now’s your last chance to visit before the Zoo’s last day 03.09.22

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Now’s your last chance to visit before the Zoo’s last day 03.09.22