It’s that time of year again folks. Time to recap, chunter, and mither about all the notable happenings at Dudley zoo in 2018, before the 2019 thread gets going. First of all, it was announced that the tigers had won the 2017 vote. This was a vote which allowed visitors to decide which one of three newly proposed projects, costing £250,000 each, would go ahead in 2018. The two losing projects were the chimp project and the bear ravine project. The tiger project was a plan to extend the Sumatran tiger enclosure across the rear bank, completely demolish the old dens, and build new housing with indoor viewing. More climbing frames and platforms would also be built, along with more outdoor viewing areas. Work was set to commence in September 2018. Well work was supposed to start in September 2018, but at the time of posting, to my knowledge, work still hasn’t begun, with no acknowledgement or explanation from the zoo. There may be a very reasonable excuse as to why work hasn’t yet started, but a small explanation sign isn't much to ask for. Then again, I feel that only zoo-nerds would be likely to remember or be bothered that work hasn't started yet, if it starts at all. After it was announced that the tigers had won, we thought that would be the end of the public voting. However, following the success of the 2017 vote, the zoo decided to launch another vote in 2018, where the public would again vote for their favourite of three £250k projects. The two losing projects from 2017 (the bear project and the chimp project) remained as options. However, this time the third option was the orang project. The orang project had already been announced separately the year before, in 2017. They are aiming to raise £800,000, by 2020, to build a brand-new Bornean orangutan enclosure. The large, urgently needed, new exhibit will replace the entire adjacent hunting dog enclosure. The new enclosure will be roughly oval-shaped; 26m at its widest point, 48m at its longest point, and 10m high. It will be covered, and the orangs will be joined by the lar gibbons, who will be getting a separate new house on the site of the hunting dog dens. They have so far raised over £350k. If the orang project was to win the 2018 vote then the £250k would be added to what they have already raised in the hope that they will then be able to reach their £800,000 target a year earlier, than the planned 2020, and start work much sooner. So the options for the 2018 vote were: Option 1: Adapting the CHIMP enclosure fencing to enable the zoo to introduce males to the current all-female group, as well as extending the climbing frame and creating more viewing areas. Option 2: Reinstating BROWN BEARS into the restored Bear Ravine Tecton, alongside new dens and climbing frames. Option 3: Putting the funds into the ORANGUTAN enclosure project (see above), enabling the zoo to reach their £800,000 target a year earlier. Just as was done for the 2017 vote, a poll was created on zoochat to find out which option in the 2018 vote the majority of zoochatters preferred. Unsurprisingly, the orang project took 82.9% of the votes. The bear project took 14.3%, and the chimps 2.9%. The result of the actual 2018 vote has not yet been announced by the zoo, although it is highly likely to be the bear ravine option, which led the vote nearly all year. Personally, I have no problem with zoo’s letting the public decide which major projects they would like to see happen first, projects which are all in the pipeline so will all eventually happen anyway. However, I fervently disagree with a zoo that has one or two exhibits that have urgently needed upgrading for decades, spending large sums of money on non-urgent exhibits. It’s fine at a rich zoo with a plethora of excellent exhibits, but if you’ve got a zoo with a couple of areas that desperately need investment and where money is a precious and finite commodity, it doesn’t make any sense. Surely, you tackle the most urgent thing first, the second most urgent thing second, and so on. None of the options in the 2017 vote (chimps, tigers, bear ravine) were projects that you’d think would be anywhere near the top of the zoo’s to-do list. Although I will admit that while the tiger enclosure isn’t particularly terrible, it isn’t overly good either, so it is in some way nice that it will, eventually we hope, be having an upgrade, albeit for a lot of money. The orang project on the other hand is urgent; the most urgent thing at the zoo and has been for a very long time. Apart from the Tectons and the Castle, which the zoo cannot change, the terrible orang exhibit is sadly the most defining thing about Dudley zoo in people’s minds. Even though the zoo has regularly been making promising small improvements over the last 10 years, the fact of the matter is that until the orang enclosure is drastically improved, the zoo cannot break through that ceiling and make larger strides forward in people’s estimations of the zoo as a whole. Yes, the orang project was part of the 2018 vote, but of course there was a chance it wouldn’t win, and it most likely hasn’t, thanks to the public’s voting. Why was it part of a vote? Why not just allocate the funds to the Orangs anyway? Why an equal £250k spend for each project? Why another vote? Why not just spend money where money is needed? It’s good job they are fundraising for the new orang enclosure separately, on top of the token voting, so it will still happen regardless of if it wins. For example, as it is the chimp enclosure is very good, the all-female group just needs the addition of a few males. All that basically requires is a new fence, which I imagine would cost considerably less (e.g. £50k) than the proposed £250k.They could build a new fence, add the males, then put the left-over funds into the orang project. The chimps really do not need a bigger climbing frame or more viewing areas, which I presume have been added to the project plans to bring the cost up to the equal £250k spend for each project. If the chimp option plans included a small extension to the house then that size of expenditure would make sense, but they don’t so it doesn’t. The bear ravine project is a great idea. It would create an impressive, valuable new exhibit (although I disagree with the species of bear suggested). However, it’s not urgent and money should be spent on animals that are already at the zoo that need it more. It’s one for the future, after priorities have been met first. Imagine if they hadn’t thought up this project voting thing, with a £250k proposed spend for the 2017 vote and another £250k for the 2018 vote. The £500k saved could have all been pumped into the orang enclosure. That, added to the £350k+ they’ve managed to fundraise so far, would mean that they would have already reached their £800k target and work could theoretically begin. However, that £500k sum for both the 2017 and 2018 projects probably doesn’t actually fully exist yet, which would partially explain the delay tactics of the whole annual year-long token voting system. I’m guessing both token-voting projects, which are not being fundraised for, have been pinned on projected income charts over the next few years, so if all the money was designated to the orangs it still wouldn’t have an immediate impact. The £350k+ that has been fundraised for the orangs so far is real money that really exists. Public voting in zoos can be very beneficial for various reasons, but I seriously hope we don’t see another vote in 2019. Notable ‘births’ in 2018: Gelada – male. Gelada – female, the first female gelada born at the zoo. This brings the breeding group up to 5.4. Tokay gecko born, sorry, hatched. 2 Pygmy marmosets. 2 Ring tailed lemurs – twins. Black and white ruffed lemur – male. Black lemur. Yellow breasted capuchin. Lar gibbon - male. This brings the group up to 3.2. 2 Barbary sheep. Red-crested turaco. 2 Standing’s day geckos. 4 Asiatic short clawed otters. 2 Patagonian mara – 1.1 (twins) (NB: Needless to say, there were most likely many more notable births (e.g. Barbary sheep, pygmy marmosets etc.) at DZG in 2018 which were not announced to the public). A male Dumeril’s ground boa was moved from the Discovery Centre to the reptile exhibit and paired with a new female from Rodbaston College, Staffordshire. An Amazon tree boa arrived from Sparsholt College, Hampshire. Male Asiatic lion, Jetpur, passed away in his sleep aged 14. The post mortem revealed the cause of death was cancer of the liver and spleen (although these organs are most likely to be secondaries IMO). The long-proposed lion viewing platform never came to fruition again possibly as a result of his death. Jetpur was born at DZG in 2003 to Max and Gir, he then relocated to Mulhouse Zoo, France in 2005 where he sired 8 cubs. He returned to DZG in 2015 to join DZG’s two lioness sisters, Asha and Kyra. The new snow leopard extension was completed. A big improvement, it is situated to the left of the original outdoor enclosure and has approximately doubled the total outdoor space. The extended facility, which incorporates established trees and plants, also includes newly planted foliage, rocks, lots of high wooden platforms and shelves, scratch posts, enrichment features and looks great. Viewing is good too, with viewing windows across the far end and along half its length. The whole enclosure must now be about 45m long at a rough guess. As is the way with building new structures at Dudley, they had many constraints to consider: a protected 'medieval' wall at the front, a steep drop to the rear and a 1937 grade II listed Tecton kiosk to the side. And I believe an archaeologist had to do an archaeological survey/dig before they could even be granted planning permission. It appeared no simple task, but they have managed to increase the size of the snow leopard enclosure as much as possible within the limits of its surroundings. My only quibble is that I'd rather they had built a ramp instead of steps up to the viewing area to make it more accessible for others. The new naked mole rat exhibit was completed. Located in the chimpanzee indoor viewing area, it is a very nice addition to the zoo. It is made up of three levels of the usual interconnected clear plastic tubing and includes several chambers. The animal facts and diagrams surrounding the viewing window are particularly good. It became home to 3.2 rats who arrived from Chester zoo. The zoo’s pair of South African porcupines and the trio of yellow mongoose left the zoo. Their shared enclosure, which was quite poor, was demolished to make way for a brand-new enclosure for a brand-new species. It was a shame that the porcupines and mongoose couldn’t go elsewhere in the zoo as both are nice species. The animals that replaced them were a pair of binturongs; a male, called Elliot, arrived in May from Olomouc Zoo in the Czech Republic, and a female, called Ellie, arrived in June from Tierpark Berlin. The new binturong enclosure was built for around £25k. The enclosed structure is apparently 4.5m high and consists of a good-sized outdoor area, a small on-show indoor area and two large off-show dens. The strange outdoor area was disappointing to begin with. Ugly to the public and little functionality for the arboreal binturongs, there was little in the way of climbing opportunities; just a few ropes which didn’t really go anywhere, a few spindly branches and lots of dead space. The outdoor area also contains what look like four giant wooden bird-tables, which weren’t connected to anything and just look silly. For some reason what little foliage there is, a few small plants and tree saplings, was planted in raised wooden flower beds, on a flat entirely woodchip floor. It did not look even slightly naturalistic, just plain weird, which is odd as the nearby giant anteater complex built only a few years ago is very naturalistic. Eventually, lots more climbing opportunities, such as large tree branches and wooden walkways, were added. This improved the enclosure immensely in terms of both its appearance and functionality, however, even more would not go amiss. One of the things people question whenever Dudley builds a new enclosure is why they don’t incorporate the wooded banks more, such as the one behind the new binturong enclosure. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if such banks are protected for being archeologically significant. Throughout all of January and February 2018 the zoo had a total of 30,605 visitors, which is a 78% increase on the previous year, when the first two months brought in 17,194 people. They had 15,612 visitors during February 2018 half-term week; the highest number on record. Compare that to February half-term 2017, when they had just 6,528 visitors. Over the 2018 May Day Bank Holiday weekend, the zoo attracted 12,187 visitors - the highest for more than 20 years. The busiest day was the Monday, which saw 5,350 visitors - the highest May Day attendance for 5 years. The 35-year-old triple parrot aviaries near to the lemur walkthrough were demolished. A large single aviary costing £30,000 was built in their place and became home to 8 scarlet macaws, who came from Paradise Park, Cornwall. Two bird species that lived the old triple aviaries, the Goffin's cockatoo and the pair of yellow shouldered Amazons, moved into the Queen Mary aviary, while the military macaw pair went to Tilgate Nature Centre, West Sussex. From the press release, it looked like the zoo had created a very attractive little macaw aviary, with lots of perches, branches, ropes, feeding stations, trees, plants, nest boxes and even a little waterfall that cascades from the roof. However, when people visited in person, they saw that the mesh that makes up the aviary is so tight it is simply horrendous to look through. You can go faint and cross-eyed if you try to look through it for too long. It is such a shame, but all the zoo needs to do is change a few of the mesh panels to more viewing friendly ones, then it will finally be the nice improvement it was originally intended to be. In October, four new green military macaws, also from Paradise Park, joined the eight scarlets. A new viewing platform was also built around the side of the aviary (next to the lemur walkthrough entrance), but pointlessly, as you still can’t see through the mesh properly. A ‘giraffe left. The four-year-old male hybrid, Kito, went to Noah's Ark Farm in Bristol. This left Dudley with just 2 giraffes; 17-year-old pure Rothschild’s male Kubwa, and 9-year-old hybrid female Josie. The old empty red squirrel cages were demolished, and a single, £25,000, much larger enclosure, made from wood and wire, was built in its place; complete with a small indoor section. The zoo said last year that this new enclosure would be to house six male Prevost’s squirrels coming from Chester zoo. However, when the completion of the new structure was announced it turned out that the zoo’s black lemurs (1.1.2) would be moving in instead. The black lemurs, due to the aggressive nature of the female Barbara, were originally going to have their own separate enclosure within the 1-acre lemur walkthrough, so when this didn’t happen people then wondered whether the Prevost’s squirrels would still be coming. A zoochatter contacted the zoo to find out. Their reply was that the change in plan was because the new enclosure was considered to be more suitable for the lemurs, and the Prevost’s squirrels would still be coming but going elsewhere in the zoo. IMO the change in plan was because someone suddenly realised that squirrels would chew straight through a wooden enclosure! Months went by without the squirrels materialising. A sprightly, young zoochatter then visited and was told that the Prevost’s squirrels would no longer be coming to the zoo at all. With regards to the exhibit, it’s ok. It would have made a nice squirrel enclosure, and you can tell it was built with them in mind, but as a lemur enclosure it is underwhelming. It’s nicely furnished, but it could be a lot bigger, especially the house, and the viewing is very poor mainly due to reflections from the glass (something which has been noticed with several enclosures around the zoo). There were no major/obvious improvements to the farmyard, tapir paddock or the ‘Castle Creatures’ exhibit as was proposed last year. A children’s beach area, called “Ow Bin Ya Sands” – stupid name, was created on the site of the demolished sensory garden. A 30ft by 50ft raised sandpit containing 80 tonnes of sand was built and supplied with buckets, spades, giant deckchairs, picnic benches, and various peep boards. It was open all summer and seemed to be very popular with families with young children. Inca, the oldest Asiatic black bear in the world, turned 38. Benji (male, ?Bornean orang) turned 41. A male giant anteater, called Bubbles, arrived from Longleat Safari Park. He joined Dudley’s resident female Romy, who arrived from the Czech Republic in July 2016. Two male black howler monkeys left for Zoo du Bassin d’Arcachon, France. A pair of male and female grey capped emerald doves arrived, with the hope they will breed. A large storage building was built between the macaw viewing platform and the entrance to the lemur walkthrough. Approximately 100 Regal Jumping Spider spiderlings were kindly donated to the zoo by a trainee keeper and moved into the farm barn. For reasons unknown, the agouti moved out of the large enclosure in the lorikeet walkthrough. Whatever the zoo puts in that enclosure (e.g. porcupines, otters) never seems to stay very long before being moved back out. The enclosure would be far more functional if they’d permanently fill in the large, hindering pond in the centre of it. The agouti were since seen in the Queen Mary aviary by the sea lions, which instead of becoming the once proposed ‘lorikeet breeding centre’ became a bit of a dumping ground for a mishmash of species. The extension to the camel paddock around the back of the new farm barn was completed, giving the camels a lot more space. Two basic viewing areas were also constructed; one looking up the enclosure from the farmyard and the other looking down onto the new extension. It would have been nice if they had also extended the paddock into the space taken up by the adjacent children's playground too, but they added new play equipment there in 2018, so presumably that won't happen for a while. The new extension was connected to the original enclosure by small pathway, which was cut through a gap in the treeline. The only reason I can think of as to why they did this, instead of connecting the paddocks properly to make one large open space, was to create an area which can be quickly closed off if needed. The Sulawesi crested macaques swapped enclosures with the gelada breeding group. This was done to give the baboons fresh grazing and to allow the grass in their original enclosure to recover. There was some discussion a few years ago on zoochat, when the zoo first stated their eventual intention to do this, that the gelada enclosure, which very steep, bare and exposed, would not be entirely suitable for macaques. Hopefully, it is only a temporary move. An adult female Patagonian mara arrived from Amazona Zoo in Cromer, Norfolk. A seven-year-old male burrowing owl arrived from London Zoo to pair with the resident female. Five northern bald ibis joined the zoo’s existing flock. Three arrived from Birdworld and two from Amersfoort, Netherlands. Now we get to the sad part… On 30th November, instead of the usual light-hearted news story, the zoo released a very serious statement. On 23rd October, at around 5pm after the zoo had closed and all visitors had left the site, the door/s to the snow leopard enclosure was left open through keeper (i.e. human) error. 8-year-old male snow leopard, Margaash, escaped and ventured into the adjacent woodland on zoo grounds. Once keepers saw Margaash outside the enclosure, the animal escape procedure was implemented. The zoo stated that they did everything they could to persuade Margaash to return to the enclosure, but this was clearly failing and with darkness looming something had to be done. The zoo considered tranquilising Margaash, but the zoo vet team, i.e. experts, said that in their professional opinion, due to the time it takes for the drug to work, firing a tranquiliser dart would pose too much of a risk to public safety, which in situations like these always takes number one priority over anything else. Firing a tranquiliser dart, even if it had missed, would have caused the animal to run. Just past the woodland, behind the snow leopard enclosure, right outside the zoo, is a large college, just past that there are family homes and the busy town centre. Even if the tranquiliser dart had hit its target and the animal had received the full dose, as the vet said, it would have taken too much time (30-45mins?) for the drug to take effect. It is almost certain that a confused and highly agitated adult male snow leopard would have encountered people; inevitably leading to someone being severely injured or killed. The zoo had no other option but to take the heart-breaking yet responsible decision to shoot to kill. Margaash died via a single shot from a senior member of the firearms team and did not suffer. I firmly believe this was the right course of action. Personally, I think it was the keeper access door/s to the indoor dens that was left open, as for most of 2018 the male was being kept in the original part of the outdoor enclosure, which I think I’m right in saying has no external keeper access other than through the dens. It is purely speculation, but I theorise that the keeper, or keepers, had been in the dens cleaning them out, gone outside and left the door/s unlocked behind them. I’m guessing they then walked around the back of the enclosure to open up the shutter to let the male into the dens, who then escaped through the unlocked door/s. A terrible, awful, dreadful thing to happen. One of the worst possible things to happen to any zoo. The story went global. The backlash on social media was sizeable, vicious and infuriating. Most comments were from people outside the UK reacting out of anger without fully understanding the full situation that I described above. That’s what happens when people read headlines instead of articles, they believe the first reactionary thought that comes into their head. This was evident by most comments being centred around calling the zoo “murderers” and asking, “have they never heard of a tranquiliser?”. The keeper erroneously leaving the enclosure door/s open was to accidentally endanger public life, for the zoo to ignore the vet’s expert advice and not euthanise the animal would have been to purposefully endanger public life. Eventually, most intelligent people saw sense, but not the anti-zoo loonies…they loved it. A petition was made, which gained thousands of signatures, calling for the zoo to close and all animals to either be immediately released into the wild or sent to an imaginary animal sanctuary (where the animals still live in cages and are looked after by keepers but aren’t viewable to public nor allowed to breed). Again, this was mostly signed by people from overseas who had just seen a headline or believed the anti-zoo loonies who had been twisting the story and spreading conspiracy theories. Sadly, I also saw many vile verbal attacks directed at keepers and disgusting comments left under old news posts on the zoo’s various social media pages, so much so that the zoo had to delete many of their old unrelated news posts and made the wise decision to stop posting on social media for the past few months. Thankfully, the obscene and angry comments have since subsided. There was also a short protest of 7 or 8 ignorant people held outside the old zoo entrance. They seemed to be holding up signs/ pictures that were nothing to do with DZG or the recent event and demanding that all zoos close down. You never see these people campaigning to end habitat loss, pollution or poaching. If you’re anti-zoo, go read the first few chapters of Life of Pi for crying out loud. However, despite this it should be mentioned that there were also many people defending the zoo and challenging the ignorant, hate-filled comments. This whole event, including the aftermath, has definitely been a very low moment in the zoo's history and it wouldn’t be surprising if visitor numbers have taken a hit in the last few months, but the zoo will undoubtedly bounce back and 2019 will be a very important year for them. Things to look out for in 2019: - The announcement of the winner of the 2018 vote (highly likely to be the bear option). - Work finally starting on the tiger project, or an announcement that they aren’t going to do it for whatever reason. - The possibility of tiger cubs this year. - The possibility of a baby giant anteater. - Will a new male lion arrive to join the zoo’s lone females? - The geladas and macaques swapping enclosures again. - What is happening with the agouti? Will they be leaving the zoo altogether or will they go into a new enclosure? - Further details and fundraising for the orang enclosure project. - Any hint that a new giraffe house and extended paddock may be in the zoo’s near-future plans. - The possible arrival of a new female giraffe. - Will there be any sea lion births this year? - The arrival of a new male snow leopard? - Will they replace some of the panels in the macaw aviary so that you can see into it properly? - Any info on where the African wild dogs will be going when work starts on the orang project. - Will the paths in the lemur walkthrough finally be made more wheelchair and pushchair friendly? - Any changes to the ‘Castle Creatures’ exhibit. - Will the penguin handrail and the bush dog fence be replaced? - The arrival of a male Victoria crowned pigeon - The zoo continuing to improve small, old enclosures dotted around the site. Finally, here’s some news from 2019… The zoo has said they’ll soon be revealing details about their plans for 2019. These will involve enhancing facilities for children as well as adding to the animal collection in order to further boost visitor experience. https://www.dudleyzoo.org.uk/all-aboard-for-2019/ PS. If anyone has any wishes/ideas for what they’d like to see at Dudley zoo in the future then there is a dedicated thread here. The gallery can be found here.