Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has supported the Hornbill Research Foundation since 2002, adopting families of hornbills in southern Thailand. Our adoption helps fund researchers from Bangkok’s Mahidol and Kasetsart Universities, along with 40 villagers, to look after hornbill nests found in natural tree cavities in a patch of tropical forest in Budo-Su-Ngai Padi National Park and to record hornbill biological data at all the nest sites as part of the team’s research to better understand the biology of the hornbills. In 2017, Action for the Wild continued its adoption of three hornbill families.

In 2017, 33 nests trees were available for the rhinoceros hornbills, with 6 sealed nests and 2 chicks successfully fledged in this year period. Our particular family, number 59, successfully fledged one of these chicks. Their nest was found in 2014, 12m above the ground. Over 2015-2017, three great hornbill chicks were fledged in this tree. In this year, the female rhinoceros hornbill entered the nest on the 9th March and the chick fledged from the nest on the 17th July. The guardian responsible for monitoring the nest spent an average of almost 6 hours a day observing the nest for 80 days.  Throughout this period, the male fed at least 20 species of fruits, and spent about 15% of his time around the nest tree. The nest’s guardian has worked as a field assistant since 2007. He leads nature walks and is also a member of the nest maintenance team. In 2017, he looked after two rhinoceros hornbill nests and a bushy-crested hornbill nest.

In 2017, 8 nests trees were available for the helmeted hornbills, with 2 sealed nests and 2 chicks successfully fledged in this year period. Our particular family, number 22, successfully fledged one of these chicks. Their nest was found in 2016, 35m above the ground. The family have used this nest for two years starting in 2016, and fledged a chick in both 2016 and 2017. In this year, the female helmeted hornbill entered the nest on the 26th February and the chick fledged from the nest on the 19th June. The guardian responsible for monitoring the nest spent over 6.5 hours a day observing the nest for 55 days.  Throughout this period, the male fed at least 16 species of fruits and one animal species; a leaf insect. The male spent about 18% of his time around the nest tree. The nest’s guardian, along with his adopted daughter, monitor the nest and he has worked as a field assistant since 1995. He leads nature walks and is one of the key leaders of the fixing team, being responsible for repairing, modifying natural nest cavities and installing artificial nests. In 2017, they looked after four nests, belonging to families of helmeted, rhinoceros, wreathed and white-crowned hornbills.

In 2017, 8 nests trees were available for the white-crowned hornbills, with 1 sealed nest and 2 chicks successfully fledged in this year period. Our particular family, number 12, successfully fledged both of these chicks. Their nest was found in 2017 and as yet, no data has been recorded on the tree. In this year, the female white-crowned hornbill entered the nest around mid May (she was already in the nest on the 22nd May) and the chicks fledged from the nest on the 4th September. The guardian responsible for monitoring the nest spent over 6.5 hours a day observing the nest for 44 days.  Throughout this period, the male and helpers fed at least 13 species of fruits and 8 animal species; a snake, skink, flying lizard, leaf insect, walking stick, scorpion, centipede and millipede. The male and helpers spent about 23% of their time around the nest tree. The same nest guardian looked after this nest as the helmeted hornbill family number 22.

In 2017, various lectures took place; training researchers, students and youth on how to conduct hornbill research and conservation to enhance their knowledge and promote their awareness towards natural resource conservation. In total, 35 activities were conducted in 2017 to 2,399 participants.

The months of June and July have been busy for Action for the Wild’s supported Free the Bears’ sanctuary in Laos, with 5 rescues taking place in a month’s period. On June the 26th, a tiny moon bear was rescued with serious health concerns. See the video of her rescue here.

The 60th rescue in Laos took place on July the 18th. This 4 year old male, called Bobby, seems delighted to be around other bears for the first time since being orphaned. Check out the video of his rescue here.

Finally on July the 24th, another 3 young moon bears (Laos Rescues #61-63, all 2.5 years old) were rescued from a small wooden shed behind a furniture factory in Xayaboury province, Laos and arrived safely at the Free the Bears Sancutary. 

Find out more about this project and how Action for the Wild supports its fantastic and vital work here. 

On the 19th September 2018, a team made up of members from the zoo keeping and gardens sections at Colchester Zoo will be taking part in the 3 Peaks Challenge to raise funds for two Action for the Wild supported projects; the Red Panda Network and the Komodo Survival Program.

The Red Panda Network is dedicated to the conservation of red pandas in Nepal. This charity plays a vital role in protecting the remaining forests in the red panda’s natural habitat, including helping to restore degraded forests. They also employ members from the local community to become national forest guardians to protect the red pandas against poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.

The Komodo Survival Program carries out Komodo dragon conservation on the Wae Wuul Nature Reserve, on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The project is committed to community awareness and patrolling and law enforcement in order to protect the Komodo dragons. The charity also involves the local community with the protection and conservation of the Komodo dragons; therefore providing income to these communities within Flores.

The team have chosen these  species as they are both unique and important in their own right; with red panda populations now classed as endangered (red panda populations have decreased by 50% in the last 20 years) and Komodo dragon populations classed as vulnerable (there is estimated to be only 350 breeding female komodo dragons left in the wild). It is more important than ever to help these species!

If you would like to help support the team in their efforts, please click here:; any support is greatly appreciated. The challenge the team are taking on will be tough, but absolutely worth it to help these animals in the wild!

Conservation of Komodo dragons requires a multidisciplinary approach whereby wildlife population monitoring, direct protection measures, community awareness and capacity building initiatives are integrated and implemented in collaboration with government authorities and the local community.

On Flores, Komodo dragons are protected on four nature reserves located on the western and northern coast of the island. Here, conservation efforts are conducted by the NGO Komodo Survival Program, thanks to continued support from members and associates of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), including Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild.

The conservation project is implemented in the Wae Wuul nature reserve, off the eastern boundaries of Komodo National Park in western Flores, in the three contiguous conservation areas of Wolo Tadho, Riung and Tujuh belas pulau and in the district of Pota in northern Flores. The northern coast of Flores constitutes the easternmost known stronghold of Komodo dragons in Indonesia and harbour a genetically diverse lizard population in a region still void of mass tourism.

The 2017 Flores programme for Komodo dragon conservation successfully implemented a number of key wildlife management and sustainable development initiatives. The second session of a three-year comprehensive survey on the current distribution of Komodo dragon along the entire coastal area of the island of Flores was conducted. Between February and September 2017, presence/absence of Komodo dragons was assessed by positioning wildlife monitoring passive infrared cameras in coastal dry deciduous Monsoon forest and savannah habitats. The survey included 95 camera trapping stations located along the coastal area of western Flores from the Wae Wuul nature reserve to the south coast of Flores Island. The cameras successfully recorded images of Komodo dragons at 42 (44%) out of 95 camera trap locations positioned along approximately 180 km of coastline. In Wae Wuul nature reserve, 14 camera traps successfully recorded Komodo dragon presence from a total of 27 camera trap stations.

Population monitoring by means of passive infrared cameras recorded a relatively stable trend of both Komodo dragons and their main prey species, including Timor deer, wild pigs and water buffalo, while providing training to rangers and technical staff of the Indonesian Department of Forestry.

Patrolling and surveillance of nature reserves on the western and northern coast of Flores revealed new threats to the reserve’s integrity and local wildlife. Patrolling and surveillance included the involvement of a task force made of 10 people of the local villagers living close to the nature reserves. Patrolling activities consisted of regular hiking along established trails in the Wae Wuul and Tujuh belas pulau nature reserves to spot and prevent bushfires, illegal hunting of ungulate prey species and wood harvesting.  No illegal wood harvests were reported, however, a number of wild fires were recorded and later extinguished in Wae Wuul. Poaching of Komodo dragon prey species will need to be tackled with an even stronger involvement of local people in the protection of natural habitats and law enforcement policy.

The sentry post of the Wae Wuul reserve was inoperable and in state of disrepair from 2006 to 2007. In 2008, thanks to EAZA support, rehabilitation works of the building were initiated including new roofing, floor, repair of cracked and damaged walls, new windows, upgrade of electric wiring and power. A hut was also constructed to house a new generator. In 2012, the water supply system was restored. The structure now consists of three bedrooms, a large hall/meeting room, a kitchen and a bathroom. The post is an important base for operation to conduct monitoring and conservation activities in the Wae Wuul reserve. Community awareness and patrolling activities, field training on wildlife monitoring and all other logistics depend upon good functioning of the post infrastructures. In 2017, restoration work was carried out as basic maintenance of the roof, windows, walls and front porch.

Community awareness initiatives were conducted in northern Flores. Sessions were attended by approximately 50 villagers in Nanga Mbaur and 25 villagers in Nanga Mese, including religious leaders, village chiefs and community members. The main aim of the initiative was to reiterate the importance of sustainable use of natural habitats and commitment of national and international sponsors in sustainable development programs. The programme emphasized the importance of minimizing levels of encroachment to monsoon forest and savannah habitat and the beneficial, long-term effect of preventing intensive poaching on Komodo monitor prey species.

The awareness programme also included courses on elementary English for adults and primary and secondary school children. Seminars were also conducted with educational activities related to Komodo dragon conservation, including lectures, story-telling and documentaries. The heads of the villages were also present during classes. Results showed that students’ knowledge on Komodo dragon ecology and conservation significantly improved after classes.

A course on ecotourism was also conducted. The course aimed at developing locals’ ability to organise and conduct ecotourism services including environmental awareness, planning tours, walks and treks, plant and animal interpretation. The second edition of a handicraft training workshop gave people from northern Flores the opportunity to meet Komodo village craftsmen and learn about the making of wooden Komodo dragon characters for the tourist market. This is one of the key capacity building initiatives of the programme. Wood carving activity, based on sustainable or strictly monitored wood harvesting, is one remunerative activity for people living within the boundaries of Komodo National Park and it is the plan to create a similar sustainable activity in northern Flores.

A meeting was held at the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment in Bogor to review the work conducted in 2016/2017 and present the 2018 schedule of activities. Moreover, the cooperation agreement with the Indonesian Department of Forestry for conducting monitoring and conservation activities of Komodo dragons was renewed for the period 2016-2021, which is a key achievement as it will enable the Komodo Survival Program to continue to assist wildlife and habitat protection in both western and northern Flores.

Action for the Wild has been supporting VulPro in their surveying of vulture populations since 2015. VulPro commenced their 2018 population surveys of both cliff- and tree nesting species in May. The first surveys are undertaken in order to determine the number of breeding pairs at each site. In May and June, they have completed counts at 8 colonies

The Magaliesberg colony has shown a substantial increase with 416 breeding pairs recorded for 2018. This is the highest count ever achieved since the 1990’s. VulPro is extremely proud of this as this is a direct result of the work they have undertaken to save vultures.

The Limpopo Cape vulture monitoring at Moletjie remains unchanged, however VulPro fear it may go extinct due to high levels of human disturbance. With only 5 active nests and only 3 incubating adults, this colony is declining rapidly with traditional medicine trade and direct disturbance being the major threats.

The Soutpansberg colony in Limpopo shows a slight decrease, however it must be noted that due to poor visibility, human error will have some impact on the accuracy of the count. This colony is extremely difficult to monitor given its location, safety and heat haze and mist. However, VulPro managed to records a total of 198 active nests; a slight decline from last year but viewing conditions were extremely harsh this time round.

VulPro have seen a substantial increase in the number of African White-backed Vulture nests in Olifants River Private Game Reserve, with a total of 64 nests identified which is an increase from the 2017’s first survey.

In early June, they undertook the first of the annual population surveys at the Manutsa CV colony. This colony appears to be fairly stable showing more or less the same numbers of breeding pairs as in the past 2 years. This count was followed by the first of the annual population surveys at the Mannyelalong CV colony in Botswana where 84 breeding pairs were identified. In late June, the Kransberg cape vulture colony was monitored, along with an African white backed population survey conducted at Boikarabelo, where sadly results were pretty bleak in comparison to last year’s first count with many failed nests.

VulPro are also continuing with their power line surveys and mitigation work. During the period of 1 December 2017 to 31 May 2018, VulPro surveyed a total of 58.3 kilometres of power lines, including 387 power line structures. During these surveys, a minimum of 8 vulture fatalities were identified, and reported to Eskom.

For the past two years, Action for the Wild has been helping to support the work of Free the Bears in Laos PDR, with their new Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary.

Since 2003, 58 bears (57 moon and 1 sun bear) have been rescued in Laos, with 9 of these bears having been rescued since November 2017.  With awareness of the new sanctuary spreading, Provincial Forest Inspection offices are increasingly calling on Free the Bears to provide short or long-term housing for other species of rescued wildlife.

In its first full year of operation, the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary has provided a safe and secure home for the rehabilitation of four species of primate (Stump-tailed macaque, Northern pig-tailed macaque, Assamese macaque and Rhesus macaque), small carnivores (Leopard cat, Masked palm civet, Common palm civet and Red panda), birds (Alexandrine parakeet, Asian barred owlet and Oriental scops owl) and reptiles (Impressed tortoises). In total, over 40 individuals of 15 species, many of which are listed on the IUCN Red List, have been provided with a second chance at life thanks to the creation of this much-needed sanctuary. Since November 2017 alone, 6 red pandas, a common palm civet, macaques of various species, a leopard cat and a pygmy slow loris have been rescued, again highlighting the Laos government’s efforts in increasing its capacity to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

With such an influx of confiscations, work has continued at a fast pace to develop the sanctuary as quickly as possible, and it is expected such development will continue until 2020, so that eventually 130 bears can be cared for across 21 enclosures.

Bear enclosure 1 was completed last September and is today home to 7 adult moon bears who are able to enjoy 24-hour access to a large and enriched habitat. In June 2018, bears were moved into the new enclosure 2; an 8,000m2 enclosure surrounding a large lake where the bears can romp and fish, together with a wide range of climbing frames, caves and platforms to allow the bears to exhibit a full range of natural behaviours. This shuffling has enabled over 30 bears to have their facilities upgraded, and aims to make space for five new bears expected to arrive in July. The outdoor enclosures have been completed in advance of the associated Bear House 2, which will ultimately comprise of 10 dens (set within two wings) and 4 adjoining enclosures covering almost 1.5hectares.

A new Cub Nursery and the Quarantine House, to which Action for the Wild donated funds in March 2018, are partially complete. The large Quarantine Area (QA) features a dedicated entrance building for biosecurity, and a large 400m2 holding area with individual dens for up to eight newly rescued bears, plus two outdoor play pens. Work on the holding area has been delayed due to the necessity to provide emergency housing for red pandas since January 2018, but will recommence soon and the area is already suitable for short-term housing of bears in temporary conditions. Eventually this QA will house further separate buildings for additional species such as primates, reptiles, birds and small mammals.

In 2018, Free the Bears have additional plans for a 3rd bear house, a wildlife hospital, pangolarium/reptile pre-release facility and Small Carnivore Conservation Centre. They have just started work on the Small Carnivore area which will allow them to move the red pandas out of the QA and finally complete this ready for new arrivals. As one of the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world, pangolins are seized from illegal wildlife traders with increasing regularity in Laos. The need for a specialist facility in which these animals can be kept for short-term rehabilitation prior to their re-release back to the wild is therefore essential, and funding has been secured for this building – which will also serve to house reptiles such as turtles and snakes – making construction of this facility a priority project for 2018-19.

With the Laos Prime Minister’s order expressly prohibiting trafficking, trade and farming of any CITES Appendix 1 species, laying the foundations for closure of the existing bile farms, work needs to continue at a fast past to provide a home for the 125 bears known to be held captive in up to eight bear bile farms and extraction facilities across Laos.

Intern 2018Animal Welfare and Conservation Masters student Zoe Braybrook will be heading to South Africa over the summer for an internship at Colchester Zoo’s UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve.

The internship is for four weeks at the 6,000 hectare reserve in KwaZulu Natal and will give Zoe, from Sudbury, Suffolk, a unique insight into wildlife research and species conservation.

The 24-year-old said: “This is a dream placement for an Animal Conservation and Welfare student and I am absolutely buzzing for this experience!

“It has always been a dream of mine to work on a reserve such as this. The reserve is managed by Colchester Zoo, so now I get the opportunity to volunteer for an experience of a life time as well as hopefully showing my future employer just how passionate I am.

“I want a career in the field and I think this will give me real-life experience of what is consistently discussed throughout journals – such as how camera trapping actually works – and seeing the animals in their natural habitat.

“I want to look at stress instigators in captivity for my dissertation so, having observed the animals myself in the wild, it will make for a very interesting comparison.”

Competition for the internships is high and, as Action for the Wild is a non-profit organisation, they have to be self-supported. They offer interns the opportunity to work with experienced staff and their ongoing projects as well as the practical tasks around the reserve.

Zoe, who studied BSc (Hons) Equine Behavioural Science at Writtle before progressing to the Masters, said: “I might be working with camera traps or carrying our animal observation or counts, checking fences, doing night checks or poaching checks. There are excursions at the weekends that students can go on, visiting Nambiti Reserve where the Big Five species can be found, a bird of prey sanctuary, a reptile centre and horse-riding through the mountains – which I’m particularly excited about!

“The reserve was set up from a number of farms so they are missing some flagship species such as lions and elephants because the habitats had been lost but some species, such as leopards, are naturally returning to the area. I’m looking forward to seeing giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and hopefully leopards in the wild and it’s fantastic to think I will be contributing directly to their conservation!”

Rebecca Moore, Director of Conservation, Education and Research at Colchester Zoo said:

“We look forward to welcoming Zoe to the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve in August, and are confident she will gain vital conservation and research skills to further a career in the conservation field, as well as have a wonderful experience in the African bush.

“We first welcomed interns onto UmPhafa in 2009, and have since had 300 interns visit us. Over the years, we have welcomed many Writtle University College students to UmPhafa and we are eager to share the wonders of the reserve with them each year.”

Dr Jonathan Amory, Principal Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Writtle University College, said: “The UmPhafa Conservation Project captures so many of our ideals in best-practice animal management, conservation and care for the environment. It is great that our students can access their internship programme that will provide a trip of a lifetime, in addition to bridging the gap between theory and practice.”

  • Every year, some of the undergraduates and postgraduates studying Animal courses at Writtle University College visit UmPhafa for two weeks on study tour for the experience of a lifetime! Another three graduates will be returning to Umphafa on internships after enjoying their placement there as part of their undergraduate studies last year.
  • For more information about our Animal courses, please visit

Gelada baboons are endemic to Ethiopia. The current status of wild populations isn’t known; hence the conservation status of this species needs to be properly assessed. In addition, nothing is known with respect to population structure, welfare condition and behaviour of geladas that live outside of protected areas and that are affected by severe human pressure.

According to the IUCN, the overall range of gelada baboons is being eroded as a result of agricultural expansion, due to the increasing human population densities on the central highlands. Deforestation and soil erosion are serious problems throughout the area. Grazing pressure is intense, and competition from domestic livestock has forced geladas to remain on the less productive gorge slopes in some areas. As a result the population has declined since the 1970s. The populations that are potentially isolated and that live outside the protected areas are the most vulnerable because they may be less capable of responding to and recovering from human‐related environmental threats.

The general objective of this project is to contribute to the improvement of the conservation of wild geladas in Ethiopia. This will be carried out by:

– increasing understanding of how human presence and activities impact on ecology and behaviour in two unprotected sites of Ankober and Debre Birhan, with different level of disturbance,
– increasing awareness of environmental issues, capacity building and ownership of the local community managing the areas frequented by wild geladas,
– increasing the scientific and technical knowledge of the species to be used for management purposes.

In March 2017, the Principal Investigators of the project (primatologists Elisabetta Palagi, Ivan Norscia and herpetologist Marco A. L. Zuffi) carried out a feasibility mission in the Debre Birhan area and in the Ankober area (Amhara region, Ethiopia). On the Kundi highland (a grazing land a few kilometres away from the Ankober village), they found a herd of geladas composed of two breeding bands, with a total of 123 individuals. In the area surrounding Kundi, other herds were detected and can be the object of a more comprehensive population survey. In the Debre Birhan area, the agricultural land, they detected a herd of a more than a hundred individuals frequenting agricultural lands. In this area, the animals are frequently chased away by humans and dogs during the planting and harvesting seasons. The two areas of Debre Birhan and Ankober are not protected and are exposed to different levels and types of disturbance (grazing versus agricultural lands, shepherds versus farmers using the lands, etc.).

The main research areas of this project will be to assess the historical background of how the gelada population has changed over the years by interviewing shepherds, farmers and other stakeholders and to assess the home range and spatial behaviour of the geladas in the different areas and look at the impact of human pressure on the population distribution. In addition, social behaviour analysis will be conducted, looking at aggression and conflict behaviour, competition over food, and play activities between juveniles as these “play units” represent the social bridge connecting subjects belonging to different one-male units.

The first data collection will commence in October 2018 and continue over a three year period. Action for the Wild has pledged €1,000 per year for the three year period and made its first donation in May 2018 to help improve the knowledge and ultimately conservation of this species in the wild.

Throughout 2018, bear rescues in Laos have continued. In early March, we reported on the rescue of Laos bears 54 and 55. On Good Friday, the team rescued four bears;  a sun bear in Cambodia (rescue number 204) and three moon bears in Laos (rescue numbers 56, 57 and 58). This month, May, they have also been asked to undertake an emergency rescue of five (maybe more) moon bears from Xayaboury province. 

On a very positive note, Free the Bears have received incredible news from Laos!  The Prime Minister has signed an order prohibiting all trafficking, trade & farming of CITES Appendix 1 species.  This should see a complete ban on any extraction or exploitation of bile farm bears. This is very exciting news and should lead to bile farm closures very soon.

With the increasing rescues and the closure of bile farms, Free the Bears are rushing to finish Bear Enclosure 2  and the Quarantine House at Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary, allowing them to move bears and free up some space. Very soon one group of bears will enjoy romping & fishing in this 8,500m2 slice of paradise. By creating one new enclosure, they will be able to provide enclosure upgrades for 30 bears and create room for the new bears they are hoping to rescue later this month.

Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated £36,000 to Free the Bears since 2011, with our most recent donation of £5,000 in March 2018 going towards this essential construction of the quarantine house to ensure Free the Bears can continue accepting bears in need, without risking transmission of disease to the growing bear family in their care.

Action for the Wild has donated over £16,000 in its membership of the lemur consortium, the AEECL, since 2004. The AEECL aims to protect the habitat and ecosystems within the Sahamalaza National Park, Madagascar, to monitor and increase lemur populations and be a strong conservation ambassador for the area. To achieve this, they invest in local communities through education, resource management and communication, to ensure the communities of today can forge a safe haven for wildlife tomorrow.

Throughout 2017, the AEECL provided salary support for 78 community teachers, awarded scholarships to 15 high school students and constructed a new school in the village of Ambinda. In 2018, the project will continue to provide salary support for the community teachers; half of the community teacher salaries will be paid by the AEECL and the villagers should pay the rest. The construction of the school is tangible proof of AEECL’s commitment to support the community. The construction allowed them to stand out from the other organizations working in Sahamalaza and in 2018, the AEECL plans to construct another school in Antafiabe.

The AEECL works to establish firebreaks in order to stop the spread of fires. In 2017, fire breaks were established around the Ankarafa forest from 6th to 8th August 2017. In total, 856 persons participated in the building of the firebreak, this was an increase of 60% compared to the previous year. In 2018, they hope forest fires will decrease by 50% over the year.

Another important role of the AEECL is to participate in environmental events to increase awareness about the conservation of the environment by bringing all organisations and groups together in one place. The AEECL participated and organized four activities at environmental events throughout 2017. In 2018, they hope to see an increase in local participation by 50% during the celebration of the lemur festival in Sahamalaza.

Ecotourism has been a big focus for the AEECL in 2017 as it helps to strengthen community links, creates employment for local people and creates awareness of the incredible biodiversity in the area. 60 tourists visited the camp in 2017 and the development of infrastructure at the tourist camp will continue in 2018 to increase tourists visiting and increase awareness.

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