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The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland celebrates 100 years

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the charity that owns Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park is to celebrate its 100th birthday on 18 March.

The Society was set up in March 1909 by Thomas Gillespie, an Edinburgh lawyer who had a vision to create a zoological park for the people of Scotland. He worked hard to realise this vision and it came to fruition in 1913 when Edinburgh Zoo was opened to the public. Following that, RZSS acquired the Highland Wildlife Park in 1986 which has been a member of Wild Scotland since the association was formed in 2003.

Since then the two parks have evolved to become not only successful visitor attractions but also leading centres in conservation, education and research.

The role of zoos in the modern world has changed drastically in the last 100 years. Chimp tea parties and elephant rides were once commonplace in Edinburgh Zoo, now visitors are encouraged to observe and enjoy the animals in enclosures that closely reflect their natural habitat. Beyond the visitor experience, zoos now also play a vital role in conservation. Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park participate in worldwide breeding programmes for endangered species, which are essential for creating a safety net to guard against the threat of extinction. RZSS is also involved in conservation projects across the world, from supporting projects involving penguins in the Falklands to chimpanzees in Uganda.

Closer to home, RZSS has assisted with protecting native species such as the Canna mouse and the Scottish wildcat as well as working collaboratively with Scottish Wildlife Trust to reintroduce the European beaver to Scotland on a trial basis.

There are many activities planned to mark the centenary including the largest education outreach programme ever to be undertaken by RZSS. The Society purchased a 1976 Leyland double decker bus and a revamp is currently underway with the launch planned for early summer. The ‘Wild Bus’ will tour Scotland, visiting 100 schools and taking part in community events along the way. School children and members of the public will be able to learn about conservation on the lower deck before going upstairs to the mini-rainforest to meet live animals such as stick insects and frogs.

There will also be various talks and events throughout the year. The first of these will be on 18 March when all senior citizens will be welcomed to the Zoo free of charge.

John Spence, President of RZSS, said:
“RZSS may be 100 years old but it could not have more dynamism, vitality and engagement with the public. Dynamism as demonstrated by its commitment and increasing role in research and conservation and by continually finding new avenues to explore. Vitality is shown by its approach to education and by constantly creating innovative ways to connect with visitors to both parks. Engagement as demonstrated by the Wild Bus which will tour schools throughout the country. It is a privilege for me to be associated with such an extraordinary organisation.”

Douglas Richardson, Animal Collection Manager at Highland Wildlife Park, said:
“As important as reaching 100 years old is, seeing how the Society has evolved over the years is just as important. From being purely an institution that gave visitors the opportunity to view animals from all parts of the globe, we now have an ever increasing conservation role by supporting projects taking place all over the world.”

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