Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bristol Zoo Gardens reveals its top 10 endangered species

Bristol Zoo Gardens reveals its top 10 endangered species

in support of the International Year of Biodiversity

Bristol Zoo Gardens has announced the top 10 ‘at risk’ species at the Zoo, which it is working hard to protect in the wild.

The list, which includes critically endangered species such as the Vietnamese pond turtle, lemur leaf frog and western lowland gorilla, forms part of Bristol Zoo’s support for the International Year of Biodiversity.

Every month, for the next 10 months, Bristol Zoo will promote one of the 10 species, raising the profile of the threats facing it in the wild and how Bristol Zoo is working to help save the species from extinction.

The campaign begins with the critically endangered Negros bleeding heart dove for February – a fitting species for Valentine’s Day. It is thought there are less than 250 of these birds left in the wild. Bristol Zoo and Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation are working hard to protect this endangered species.

2010 has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) by the United Nations, which is warning that the ongoing loss of species around the world is affecting human well-being. The campaign sees organisations across the globe working together to highlight the importance of conserving the world’s richly varied flora and fauna.

Bristol Zoo has organised a range of events throughout the year as part of the campaign, as well as compiling a list of its top 10 endangered species which staff are working to protect in the wild.

The Zoo’s top 10 ‘at risk’ species are: Negros bleeding heart dove, lemur leaf frog, Partula snails, the Bristol whitebeam, Livingstone’s fruit bat, western lowland gorilla, Vietnamese pond turtle, African penguin, aye aye and the UK’s native white-clawed crayfish (full details of the 10 species can be found below).

Bristol Zoo's sister organisation, the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation – based at Bristol Zoo - has a dedicated team who focus on conservation research and field projects. They aim to support species and eco-systems both here in the UK and abroad.

Neil Maddison, Head of Conservation Programmes said: “By revealing the Zoo’s top 10 ‘at risk’ species we hope to introduce people to some of the rare and amazing animals they may not know about, but which they can come and see on their doorstep at Bristol Zoo.

“It is also an opportunity to remind people of the threats facing some of the more well known animals, such as western lowland gorillas, and the work we are doing to help protect all of these 10 species in the wild.”

Neil Maddison explains the importance of the campaign: “Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on.

“Humankind has the power to protect or destroy biodiversity, but many of our current activities are threatening the world’s environments, plants and animals at an increasingly alarming rate. Our ultimate aim is to halt species extinctions, which are obviously the most irreversible aspect of biodiversity loss. The more species we lose the more likely that permanent damage is done to the ecosystems and the life support systems we rely on. But we can prevent them if we act now and build biodiversity protection into our lifestyles.

“Bristol Zoo is a leading conservation and education charity and we aim to combat the problems facing our planet by researching these threats, working to overcome them and communicating the findings to a wider audience, so that more people – today and tomorrow – help save species.”

To find out more about Bristol Zoo’s events for the International Year of Biodiversity, visit the Zoo website at

To find out how to support the Zoo’s conservation projects by adopting a bleeding heart dove (or any other animal) for Valentine’s day, visit  or phone 0117 974 7300.

Bristol Zoo’s top 10 ‘at risk’ species it is working to protect in the wild

Species fact files

Negros Bleeding heart dove - Gallicolumba keayi (February’s species of the month)

The beautiful and distinctive Negros bleeding heart dove is critically endangered and only found on two islands in the world – Panay and Negros in the Philippines. It is thought there are less than 250 of these birds left.

Overpopulation and uncontrolled development by humans has resulted in massive loss of forest in the Philippines. There is now only 7% of the original forest left on the islands. As a result, species such as the bleeding heart dove are confined to the few remaining forest fragments left.

BCSF is working with a local organisation to protect the last remnants of forest and has set up the world’s only captive population for this species, which is held on the island of Negros, to prevent the loss of this species entirely. The next priority is to identify key priority areas to protect and surveying remaining populations to develop a plan of conservation action.

Bristol Zoo keeps two very similar species of bleeding heart dove, called the Luzon and Mindanao bleeding heart doves, which you can see in the Forest of Birds exhibit.

Lemur leaf frog - Hylomantis lemur (March species of the month)

This critically endangered amphibian is only found in a few places in Costa Rica and Panama; and the number of lemur leaf frogs left in the wild is thought to be dangerously low.

The current extinction crisis is mainly due to climate change and man’s destruction of amphibians’ natural habitats, but amphibians across the globe now also face an even bigger and deadlier threat – a fungal disease called ‘amphibian Chytrid’.

This month Bristol Zoo Gardens is opening an amphibian sanctuary within its grounds to breed two frog species on the verge of extinction – the lemur leaf frog and the golden mantella frog. The facility will provide a safe home for the frogs which are critically endangered. Called the ‘AmphiPod’, the facility will provide the perfect conditions to allow the rare frogs to breed, in an effort to help save the species from extinction.

Partula snails - Partula taeniata simulans (April species of the month)

Partula snails, also known as French Polynesian trees snails, have been decimated by invasive snails which were introduced to the islands in the 1970s. Loss of habitat due to highly pernicious invasive plants such as the South American velvet tree, are also changing the landscape of the islands and adversely affecting the wildlife. As such, French Polynesian trees snails are critically endangered.

Some tree snail species are close to becoming extinct in the wild, such as the Partula taeniata simulans, which you can see in Bristol Zoo’s Bug World. Six species of tree snail are being kept at Bristol Zoo, all of which are part of an international captive breeding programme.

The Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF) is one of a number of European zoo partners who are working together to help conserve the indigenous snails.

Bristol whitebeam - Sorbus bristoliensis (May species of the month)

The Avon Gorge is famous for its rare plants, including the Bristol whitebeam which doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world and is listed as endangered.

The Bristol Whitebeam is a small, rare deciduous which can be seen in Bristol Zoo’s ‘plants of the Avon Gorge’ display outside the aquarium.

Over the last 10 years Bristol Zoo has been one of the partners in the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project. The project has been working hard to ensure that the Bristol whitebeam continues to thrive in the Avon Gorge by monitoring its numbers, carrying out practical conservation work and running an education programme to promote awareness and understanding.

Recent studies have revealed five new kinds of Sorbus trees, previously unknown, which are unique to the Avon Gorge. The Avon Gorge is considered to be one of the world’s best sites for Sorbus diversity in the World.

Livingstone’s fruit bat - also called the Comoro black flying fox – Pteropus livingstonii (June species of the month)

Livingstone fruit bats are one of the rarest and largest bats in the world. There are thought to be around just 1,200 left in the wild and Bristol Zoo and Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation are working hard to protect this endangered species.

The Livingstone’s fruit bats are only found on two small islands in the Comoro archipelago between Madagascar and the African mainland. Their populations are under threat from severe habitat destruction.

They roost in large rainforest trees, found normally on north-facing slopes, but the land on which the trees grow is vulnerable to clearance for agricultural use. The Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation employs a team of 11 local people working to help poor communities benefit from conserving the forest, rather than having to chop it down to make a living. In this way, not only will the bats be protected, but the ecosystem will remain intact and continue to be a valuable resource for people living in poverty.

There are 17 fruit bats in Bristol Zoo’s colony – which is one of just three Livingstone’s fruit bat groups in the whole of the UK.

Western lowland gorilla – Gorilla gorilla gorilla (July species of the month)

Classified as critically endangered, western lowland gorillas have been badly affected by the illegal bushmeat trade and the destruction of their forest homes.

Bristol Zoo and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation have been working to address the bushmeat trade since 1998 and have been active members of the United Nations Great Ape Survival Partnership (Grasp).

Bristol Zoo and BCSF also work in partnership with a charity called Ape Action Africa which runs one of the largest primate sanctuaries in Africa, providing a safe haven for young primates orphaned by the bushmeat trade. Ape Action Africa has its UK base at Bristol Zoo, which also supports the charity by providing financial support from Bristol Zoo as well as advice and training in veterinary, animal care, and education programmes to help with the ape rescue efforts. Two members of Zoo staff sit on the AAA board of trustees.

You can see Bristol Zoo’s family of six western lowland gorillas on Gorilla Island, or in the Zoo’s Gorilla House.

Vietnamese pond turtle - Mauremys annamensis (August species of the month)

With immense pressure from the Chinese food and traditional medicine markets, these lowland terrapins are facing almost certain extinction in the next five years unless the trade in animals can be stopped.

They are listed as Critically Endangered due the dramatic loss of animals over the last decade. Vietnam’s human population has doubled since the end of the ‘American War’, with a result that most of the lowland has been converted to paddy fields.

The terrapins live in small ponds and are easily spotted by opportunistic hunters, who sell the animals to dealers who then sell them – mainly to the Chinese food and medicine markets.

Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation is working with the Asian Turtle Network to protect the few remaining areas where the animals exist in the wild, in Central Vietnam.

You can see Vietnamese pond turtles in Bristol Zoo’s Reptile House.

African penguin – Spheniscus demersus (September species of the month)

African penguins are the only penguin species found in Africa. This species is categorised as Vulnerable, but will almost certainly be upgraded to Endangered due the devastating decline in penguin numbers in South Africa.

Climate change has badly affected the birds by influencing Antarctic currents to move, taking the fish stocks away from traditional nesting grounds; adults simply cannot find enough food to raise their young, and so they are abandoned.

Bristol Zoo Gardens and Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation have recently initiated a conservation and research programme for African penguins in collaboration with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit, the South African government, Cape Nature and other local and international partners.

Called ‘Project Penguin’, it aims to stop the dramatic decline of the species by establishing new breeding colonies for the penguins closer to fish stocks in South Africa, and monitoring breeding site fidelity in penguins.

You can see over 70 South African penguins at home in Bristol Zoo’s Seal and Penguin Coasts exhibit.

Aye aye - Daubentonia madagascariensis (October species of the month)

Although classified as ‘Near Threatened’, the Aye-aye is suffering from intense deforestation on its native Madagascar. Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation is working with communities in north-western Madagascar to conserve some of the remaining forested areas where the Aye-aye, and other critically endangered lemur species, are found.

The aye aye was regarded as one of the most endangered primates in the world a few years ago, but due to an increase in interest in the species from researchers (including BCSF), it is now known to be far more widespread than previously thought, although numbers are still low.

There are three aye ayes at home in Bristol Zoo’s Twilight World – Noah, Zanvie and their son, Raz.

White-clawed crayfish - Austropotamobius pallipes (November species of the month)

The white-clawed crayfish is a native UK species, listed as ‘Vulnerable’, but is being driven out of UK waterways by the invasive North American signal crayfish, which out-competes our own crayfish as well as being a carrier of the deadly crayfish plaque. BCSF and our partners are working with anglers, landowners and the general public in the Southwest of the UK to highlight the dangers facing this species.

Visitors to Bristol Zoo will soon be able to see white clawed crayfish, and find out more about this important species, in a new exhibit within the Zoo’s Aquarium. The Zoo is breeding this ‘at risk’ species on site to create safe populations which can eventually be released into safe, freshwater ‘ark’ sites in the wild.

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