Monthly Archives: April 2015

New Forest Wildlife Park curator champions cause of Asian short- clawed otters

Asian short clawed otters at Chestnut


They’re cute, they’re playful and they make a lot of noise, making Asian short-clawed otters one of the most common and popular species in many European zoos. Until recently, no-one thought their numbers were at risk, but recent surveys in South East Asia show that the species is rapidly being wiped out in the wild.  Now New Forest Wildlife Park’s Jason Palmer is at the forefront of helping to conserve the captive population.

Jason, who has just been promoted to the post of Curator of New Forest Wildlife Park and its two sister parks Battersea Park Children’s Zoo in London and the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire, is leading the way in establishing a European studbook for Asian short-clawed otters that will help to establish healthy breeding bloodlines for the species in zoos in the future.

Because they were relatively common in the wild, no-one had kept accurate records of captive Asian short-clawed otters since they became popular in UK zoos in the 1960s. So Jason has spent two years creating an accurate record book of the names, dates of birth, parentage, re-homings to other zoos and locations of captive Asian short-clawed otters in the UK since that time and has submitted a report of his findings to the global studbook keeper for Asian short-clawed otters worldwide.

He is also working in close association with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and hopes to become the official studbook keeper for Asian short-clawed otters in Europe. Official studbook keepers are dedicated individuals who keep detailed records of particular captive endangered species with a view to matching healthy breeding pairs and conserving the species for the future.

“Carol and Roger Heap, who own the Chestnut Centre and New Forest Wildlife Park, had some of the first breeding stock in the UK, and had kept accurate records, so that gave me a good start with the record book,” said Jason.  “I tracked down the individual Asian short-clawed otters that came to the UK, what other zoos they were sent to and the names and locations of their descendants.

“A lot of the information was not recorded in other zoos so there were large gaps, but by painstaking research and by talking to people in other zoos who remembered the 1970s and 80s I have managed to build up a much more detailed picture.

“Zoos do not breed captive animals that are related to each other and if Asian short- clawed otters are decreasing in the wild, there will be a smaller genetic pool to draw on. So the records will enable us to look at every single Asian short-clawed otter in the UK and work out who it is related to and where it came from. It will benefit every zoo and aquarium in the UK and Europe.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s our duty to try to save every single species that is threatened – that’s why all zoo keepers do what they do.”

In his new role as Curator, Jason will be responsible for the animal collections at all three of Carol and Roger Heap’s wildlife parks. This will enable increased transfer of animals between the three parks, and hopefully, once official licenses are approved, an expanded breeding programme for captive endangered species.

“It’s enriching for the animals and better for individual species if we co-ordinate the work of the three parks more effectively,” said Jason. “In the longer term the public will see a greater variety of animals, younger breeding animals, and hopefully, more babies.”

Crack the code at NFWP this Easter

bison 2

Ready to sharpen your wits, dust off the brain cells and ferret out some fun facts about wildlife? New Forest Wildlife Park is organising a Crack the Code Challenge this Easter school holidays from April 1st to 20th. The cracking clues will be hidden in eggs around the park as part of the annual Easter Egg Hunt and anyone who unscrambles them will win a prize.

This Easter school holidays there will also be animal encounters and keeper talks throughout the day, allowing visitors to learn more about individual animals and their care from the park’s knowledgeable keepers.

200 new pupae have already been delivered for the Tropical Butterfly House, which re-opens on March 27th, when these colourful creatures will begin to emerge. New pupae arrive weekly throughout the season, allowing children to witness all stages of butterfly development and to watch the tropical visitors in all their glory.

The park’s glasshouses have recently been refurbished, with a centrepiece of a new glass home for the harvest mice, so that visitors can watch the everyday activities of these busy creatures in a re-creation of their natural environment.

Great Grey Owls Patty and Selma are the latest new arrivals, transferred from the Chestnut centre in Derbyshire. New Forest Wildlife Park now has 12 species of owls, as well as a wide range of other animals to see in beautiful natural surroundings, including free-roaming roe, sika and fallow deer, and Asian short-clawed, North American River and Eurasian otters.

Vocal giant otters Simuni and Akuri are always popular with visitors and you can also see lynx, Scottish wildcats, wolves, wallabies, foxes, wild boar, European bison, red deer, polecats, pine martens, mouflon, ferrets, badgers and hedgehogs.

There are two fabulous adventure playgrounds for children and adults – Go Wild and Mini Go Wild – where you can let off steam, have fun and explore your climbing, swinging, bouncing and balancing abilities.

New Forest Wildlife Park rescues injured and abandoned wildlife, such as orphaned otters, in association with the RSPCA and is involved in international captive breeding programmes for endangered species, such as the giant otter.

The New Forest Wildlife Park is at Deerleap Lane, Longdown, Marchwood, Southampton, SO41 4UH. Tel 02380 292408.


Wiltshire communities get 10 new minibuses

There’s brilliant news for communities in Wiltshire – ten community minibus groups in Wiltshire and Swindon will each get a brand new minibus thanks to the Department for Transport.

The Community Transport Minibus Fund, totalling £25 million, was announced in December 2014 by the Department for Transport. It was set up to help rural community minibus groups provide essential transport services for older people, those with disabilities and for those without access to public transport.

The successful groups were supported in their applications by Community First, the Rural Community Council for Wiltshire, which provides support and advice to 20 community minibus groups across Wiltshire and Swindon. The Community Transport team at Community First compiled written guidance on applying for the fund and provided a sample application form with notes on completing each section.

The successful community minibus groups are: The Combine Bus, Trowbridge Guild of Community Services, Swindon Dial a Ride, Tisbus, Melksham Council of Community Services, Wessex Community Action, Community Transport South Wiltshire, Chippenham & District Transport for the Disabled, South Wilts Mencap and Sunflowers Nursery at East Grafton.

Liam Tatton-Bennett, Community Transport Manager at Community First, said this is great news for local people:

“This is a real boost for these groups as purchasing a new minibus can be a real problem, especially for small groups. In Wiltshire, we have a thriving community transport sector, often small and very local, with many groups run by dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.  These groups take people to medical appointments, enable older and disabled people to reach the shops, transport children to school, run bus routes and provide transport for a range of clubs, community groups and care homes.”

James Scott Clarke, Chair of Tisbus, which provides community transport services in Tisbury and surrounding areas, said the new bus will be a real boost for local people in the area.

“Our charitable work provides a door-to-door service to shops, hospitals, community activities and GP surgeries for people who might otherwise be isolated or trapped in their own homes due to lack of public transport or mobility issues,” he said.

“It is a real boost to us to get a brand new bus which we would otherwise have to invest a great deal of volunteer time in to raise the funds for.  This will allow us to increase our capacity on the days when we need more places or when our other buses need repairs.  The new bus will also give us increased flexibility and will be more wheelchair-friendly, making journeys more pleasurable and accessible for some of our members.

“We are very grateful to Community First for their support with this – they have been very helpful in interpreting Department for Transport regulations and have done a good job for us.”

The 20 community minibus groups supported by Community First across Wiltshire and Swindon are supported by approximately 330 volunteers, who act as drivers, booking secretaries, committee members, co-ordinators and bus cleaners. The groups drive a combined total of 363,970 miles over the year, with a total of 197,992 passenger trips (an average of nearly 9,900 trips per group per year).

Media contact:

For more information about community minibus groups in Wiltshire, please contact Liam Tatton-Bennett on 01380 732816.

Background to Community First

Community First is a registered charity and a private company limited by guarantee. With the aim of strengthening communities, growing communities and tackling disadvantage across Wiltshire and Swindon, it provides technical advice, practical support and grant aid to promote local initiatives. Community First also manages countywide programmes bringing benefits to local people, informing and influencing policy makers in the development of rural policies and practices.

Community First is at Unit C2, Beacon Business Centre, Hopton Park, Devizes, SN10 2EY; telephone 01380 732821.