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The East Anglian experts on an extinction-saving mission

PUBLISHED: 09:41 21 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:41 21 August 2019

ZSEA is working to protect the habitat of the critically-endangered blue-eyed black lemur in the north western corner of Madagascar   Picture: Liam Austin

ZSEA is working to protect the habitat of the critically-endangered blue-eyed black lemur in the north western corner of Madagascar Picture: Liam Austin

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Tiger, rhino, hedgehog, adder, blue-eyed black lemur, little tern, Norfolk hawker, hazel dormouse, turtle dove… what would you save from extinction?

Money and expertise from ZSEA is being used to hopefully safeguard the elusive and critically endangered saola, known as the Asian Unicorn   Picture: (c)Toon Fey/WWF’Money and expertise from ZSEA is being used to hopefully safeguard the elusive and critically endangered saola, known as the Asian Unicorn Picture: (c)Toon Fey/WWF’

The team behind a new East Anglian-based conservation fund pledging to ensure 15 species are safer from extinction by 2025 is currently drawing up a shortlist of those to target.

There's no shortage of candidates for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, with the latest IUCN Red Data List highlighting more than 28,000 species at threat of extinction worldwide.

Set up by the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) - the umbrella charity for Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo - chief executive David Field says the Fund will see experts from ZSEA sharing their expertise and acumen with conservation teams around the world.

While planning to save species ranging from the blue-eyed black lemur in the Madagascan jungle and the saola from the Vietnam jungle, the Fund is targeting species a lot closer to home too - and wants us all to get involved. Local species being considered include the hedgehog, adder, little tern, Norfolk Hawker dragonfly, dormouse and turtle dove - all under threat in East Anglia.

ZSEA chief executive David Field wants to share expertise with conservation teams around the world and closer to home   Picture: Victoria PertusaZSEA chief executive David Field wants to share expertise with conservation teams around the world and closer to home Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Experts will be researching, devising action plans and strategies and working in the field (or jungle, river or desert) - and we need to stop gardening, a bit!

"If everyone who visited Africa Alive! or Banham Zoo let one metre square go wild in their garden we would have this incredible connected nature reserve across East Anglia, which would make such a difference to bees, butterflies, insects and to field mice," says David.

"Conservation is not only about the many amazing animals globally we are working with, it is about our animals at home too. Previously ZSEA has not concentrated on our native species, but now we are," he says, explaining that the new fund means much more conservation work can be undertaken by the ZSEA team.

Until now ZSEA has used money raised to support existing conservation charities around the world such as giving £25,000 to wild tiger conservation earlier this year. The fund means the team's expertise can be used for specific conservation purposes and its own conservation projects.

Every visitor to Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo is being encourged to follow its example and leave areas  deliberately wild to encourage native species   Picture: Africa Alive!Every visitor to Africa Alive! and Banham Zoo is being encourged to follow its example and leave areas deliberately wild to encourage native species Picture: Africa Alive!

That includes inspiring zoo visitors to make an emotional connection with animals, whether spotting a dragonfly zipping about the long grass, seeing a giraffe delicately choosing leaves to eat, or a wild ass grooming its foal, says David. "That connection is the gateway to conservation," he explains, adding that he's sure as people get connected to animals, they will also get behind the work of the fund.

"We want to do more of the conservation ourselves. We have a lot of knowledge, a lot of expertise," he says, explaining how the fund is enabling the ZSEA team experience to be used globally to help conservation.

With knowledge ranging from extensive experience in strategy, planning, logistics, breeding programmes, working relationships, education and in physically handling animals and keeping them in tip top condition, the team is sharing its competence in hands-on conservation projects.

While still finalising the full list of the first 15 species to be selected for its safer from extinction plans, the fund will help the ZSEA team increase collaboration in global projects, from re-wilding in East Anglia to building on its current work protecting the habitat of the critically endangered blue-eyed black lemur in the north western corner of Madagascar.

Local species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the little tern   Picture: Neil Bowman/Getty Images/iStockphotoLocal species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the little tern Picture: Neil Bowman/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gary Batters, ZSEA director of conservation and education, is president of the Lemur Conservation Association (AEECL), a consortium of European zoos working to conserve the lemurs' habitat. Work includes engaging the local community to protect the forest, helping to fund schools, wells, improve crop production, introduce solar power and employ Malagasy people. The villagers in the area are very involved in protecting the forest, with hundreds of locals maintaining firebreaks and supporting community events such as lemur days.

Gary said that helping and engaging the local community with work and education was having a direct impact on the lemurs' habitat, which could otherwise be at risk of deforestation. "We have been working here since the late 1990s but we know if we step away the forest will be gone," he says.

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The project isn't only protecting the blue-eyed black lemur, he adds, with many other species, from snakes and the Sahamalaza sportive lemur, to lizards, ibis and cicadas living in the forest also benefitting. "There is so much that we can do to expand what we are doing now and move into other areas," says Gary, with sights firmly set on protecting another area of Madagascar's species-rich forest.

Local species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the hedgehog   Picture: Maren Winter/Getty Images/iStockphotoLocal species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the hedgehog Picture: Maren Winter/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In search of the Asian Unicorn

The saola, a large antelope-like animal so elusive it's known as the Asian Unicorn, is another critically endangered species which could be helped by the ZSEA Conservation Fund.

The aim is to capture some from their home in the Vietnam jungle, breed them nearby and build up enough to release them back in the wild. But they have to find them first!

Africa Alive! animal manager Terry Hornsey (left) and Gary Batters, ZSEA director of conservation and education   Picture: ZSEAAfrica Alive! animal manager Terry Hornsey (left) and Gary Batters, ZSEA director of conservation and education Picture: ZSEA

Animal manager Terry Hornsey, chairman of the global Wild Cattle and Camelid Taxon Advisory Group, says they were first discovered in almost impenetrable jungle in 1992 but have rarely been seen since. The dense forest has so far made finding them impossible for the scientists and researchers keen to begin a breeding programme.

"They're a very interesting phenomenon and we need to do something about it," he says, adding that support around the world for saving them continues to grow with plans to build a captive breeding centre in Vietnam, which could be used to breed other endangered species such as the large antlered muntjac, the Edwards's pheasant and striped rabbit.

"We are trying to protect them in the wild too but it is such a vast area, to protect it properly is impossible. We cannot keep on top of habitat destruction so breeding is important," says Terry.

The ZSEA team's expertise handling wild animals and of wild species breeding will be essential once a saola is found.

Local species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the hazel dormouse   Picture: KatPaws/Getty Images/iStockphotoLocal species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the hazel dormouse Picture: KatPaws/Getty Images/iStockphoto

"They have to be captured in the right way and their breeding programme would need to be managed in the way we manage our breeding programmes here.

"So long as we can find them we can do it," he says.

To support the ZSEA Conservation Fund, and tell the ZSEA team about your own efforts to support conservation - whether a skydive, visiting Africa Alive! or Banham Zoo, or creating a wild area in your garden, see the Our Charity pages at www.africa-alive.co.uk

Local species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the adder   Picture: Jamie Hall/Getty Images/iStockphotoLocal species that are under threat are being considered for the ZSEA Conservation Fund, including the adder Picture: Jamie Hall/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Help the lemurs

Gary Batters, ZSEA director of conservation and education, is so passionate about the new ZSEA Conservation Fund he's planning a tandem skydive at UK Parachuting near Beccles to raise money to continue the lemur conservation work.

Gary, and two other members of the ZSEA team, are due to be jumping from an aircraft high above East Anglia this week, weather permitting.

To sponsor him visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/zseaskydive

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