New zoo boss ‘confident’ pandas will have a baby

THE new boss of Edinburgh Zoo has claimed that the wildlife attraction has all the necessary ingredients to achieve its goal of breeding a baby panda.

Professor Chris West today said it was “not unusual” that captive giant pandas fail to mate at the first time of meeting and stressed the pair were “proven breeders”.

He added that under the right circumstances where they are settled, acquainted and “when the hormones are right – it’ll happen.”

Prof West spoke to the News just hours after being unveiled as the next chief executive of The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) having quit the same post in Adelaide, Australia, after six years at the helm. His team successfully introduced a pair of giant pandas to Adelaide Zoo in 2009 – though they are yet to mate.

He said: “There’s an internationally respected team at Edinburgh so I wouldn’t want to give an impression that I will come in and have this magic knowledge of how to get pandas to mate.

“My understanding, talking to be my soon-to-be colleagues in Edinburgh, is that they have settled in very well and that visitation, interest and good will is high [among the public].”

And he added: “If you get healthy male and female pandas together for the few days a year when they will mate, they do, generally speaking. It’s just a question of the right courtship opportunities. I’d be confident in the Edinburgh pandas... they’ve got plenty of time.”

The former London Zoo director replaces interim CEO Hugh Roberts who filled a leadership void last May amid a crisis that saw a director sacked and two suspended amid investigations into anonymous allegations. The same month Donald Emslie resigned as chairman.

Manus Fullerton, chair of the RZSS board, said: “I am thrilled to welcome Chris back to the UK, and particularly to Scotland. This is an excellent appointment for the RZSS, and one which promises to build on the significant international profile enjoyed by the Society, and Edinburgh Zoo in particular.

“Chris brings with him an unmatched track record in the stewardship of zoos of international standing, both in the UK and Australia. His appointment comes at a very exciting time for Edinburgh Zoo, with the unprecedented growth in visitor numbers.

“Chris will inherit a strengthened financial platform from which to grow the Society’s remit of conservation, research and education, and for this I must thank departing interim chief executive Hugh Roberts.”

Leading authority on conservation

Professor West, who originally hails from the UK, is one of the world’s leading authorities on animal conservation. In 2009, he led the RZSSA team which successfully introduced a pair of giant pandas to Adelaide Zoo.

He spent his formative years in West Africa, where his interest in wildlife was nurtured and he qualified as a vet in the early 1980s. Later he followed an academic path, teaching surgery and undertaking anaesthesia research.

His interest in conservation and wildlife led to a senior curator’s position at Chester Zoo and then the top job at the Zoological Society of London. He became chief executive of Adelaide Zoo in February 2006 and brings a wealth of international experience.