Colchester Zoo Action for the Wild’s annual donation to VulPro enabled them to continue in 2017 with their surveys of several Cape Vulture breeding colonies, currently covering approximately 50% of the entire Cape Vulture breeding population globally.

Success rate for the 2017 breeding surveys shows positive results. Some of the Cape Vulture colonies continue to show slight upward trends, which VulPro associate with the mitigation of power lines, as well as the supplementation of safe, reliable and uncontaminated food sources within the vultures’ foraging range. In total, 2,052 pairs were documented, with a total of 1,761 active nests.

With African vulture populations declining at a rapid rate, it is really optimistic seeing favourable breeding pair counts and recording high breeding success rates at most of the monitored and surveyed sites by VulPro. With positive and ongoing intervention, vulture populations can potentially be secured through threat mitigation, education, landowner extension programmes and involvements, and collaboration amongst communities living amongst vultures. Africa’s biggest problem remains that of poisoning, where in South Africa, the biggest threat remains that of power line collisions and electrocutions. VulPro continues to address both these threats with emphasis on power lines, as this is a tangible threat that can be effectively addressed, which will ultimately have a huge positive effect on the vulture populations in South Africa.

Education is one of our main aims on UmPhafa. Since 2009, we have run an internship programme to raise awareness and educate on our wildlife species and conservation and research activities. Over the years, we have also been involved in a range of school activities, from delivering lessons, to funding infrastructure development at two local schools.

teaching edits

One of our key education goals is to create educational opportunities on the reserve where we can bring local school children to learn about conservation of the habitat and animals within the area. On the 21st October, we were very privileged to have children from Sam-Lyn Education Centre come and visit us on the reserve.

Geo, our South African Intern, has been working with these children for the last six months. Talking to them about environmental issues, recycling and waste management, and all about the wild animals we have on the reserve. Some of our interns have also been to visit them at the centre and helped Geo out with the lessons.

The children came out to the reserve to see what goes on at UmPhafa, they had a tour of our accommodation to see how we recycle and had a close up view of our new wormery! Then they had a chat about life as a ranger with 2 of our rangers, Vukani & Sithembiso. Finally, they had a lovely game drive around the reserve, looking for all the animals!

A big thank you to Hazel & Les Stanley for allowing them to come to the reserve and also Yolanda Sibisi, who is a teacher at the centre.

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 University, along with 39 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 2016, 101 nests were available and 68 were monitored at Budo. Of these monitored nests, 26 were sealed up and 17 chicks fledged. Throughout this period, Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild adopted three nests; belonging to helmeted, rhinoceros and white crowned hornbills.

Our helmeted hornbill nest was first found in 2016, 35m above the ground. The nest was located on the 9th April but the female and chick were already sealed inside the nest. The female and chick emerged on the 26th July. In 2016, this is the only nest where helmeted hornbills successfully bred out of the 6 monitored nests. The nest guardian observed the nest over 72 days, monitoring for over 6 hours per day. The male hornbill bought at least 22 fruit species to the nest and three species of invertebrates; centipedes, walking stick insects and leaf insects; feeding food every 2 hours in a constant quantity. The nest guardian responsible for this nest, Mr Arase, has worked as a field assistant in the province since 1995. He is one of the core team members who repairs and modifies natural tree cavities and installs artificial nests. In 2016, he trained his adopted daughter and hopes that his family will become the new generation of guardians who will assist in saving hornbills and local natural resources.

Our rhinoceros hornbill nest was first found in 1999, 10.5m above the ground. The pair have used the nest for 14 consecutive years and have fledged 12 chicks. The nest cavity has been repaired twice by adding soil on the nest floor and adjusting the size of the entrance. In 2016, the female entered the nest on the 15th February and emerged on the 30th April, however, the chick was stolen on the 15th May. The police were informed and the chick was rescued on the 17th May, with the thief arrested. The chick was returned to the nest but the parents did not care for it, so it was taken to a Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Our white-crowned hornbill nest was first found in 2006, 5m above the ground. The pair have used the nest for four years and produced 3 chicks. Sadly in 2016, the pair did not breed successfully, and the female emerged after spending 45 days in the nest. Out of 5 maintained nest trees, there were no successful white-crowned hornbills fledging in the Budo Mountain in 2016.

In 2016, there were 46 guardians from 7 villages, including 13 local professional guardians, 11 young guardians to substitute older ones and 22 trainees. Each local guardian works 6 days per week to monitor 2-6 active nest cavities from January to September, collecting 4-6 hours of data per day. In addition to monitoring the nests, the team repair them to extend their suitability as nest sites and educate school children in villages surrounding the Budo mountain range on the conservation of hornbills, as well as hiring local villages as research assistants to prevent poaching of chicks.  The goal is to enhance knowledge, skills and awareness of hornbill research and conservation through lectures, exhibitions, workshops and nature walks.

Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild was a member of the AEECL, the Lemur Conservation Association, between 2004 and 2014 and reinstated its membership in 2017. AEECL is a charitable NGO run by a consortium of 30 European zoos, working for Madagascar’s highly endangered lemurs, through cooperation with the Malagasy people.

The Sahamalaza region has been in AEECL’s focus of scientific and conservation interest since 1988. The critically endangered blue-eyed black, or Sclater’s lemur is endemic to this part of Madagascar, and has been selected by AEECL as the flagship species for all conservation efforts concerning the region.

For many years AEECL, with the Malagasy protected areas authority (MNP), worked towards the implementation of a national protected area on the Sahamalaza Peninsula. Their first goal was reached in 2001, when UNESCO declared Sahamalaza a biosphere reserve. The region was finally declared a National Park in June 2007.

The AEECL aims to protect the habitat and ecosystems within the Sahamalaza peninsula, monitor and increase lemur populations and be a strong conservation ambassador for the area. A vital part of the work of the AEECL is to monitor the lemur numbers and research the local ecosystems to have a better understanding of the pressures faced by these habitats. Local villagers are employed as Research Assistants who are all trained to use GPS tracking devices and record lemur numbers, behaviours and patterns. The AEECL has a long established research station in Ankarafa and is currently building a 2nd station in another forest area.

Unfortunately forest fires are common throughout Madagascar and can cause much devastation so the AEECL are pro-active in preventing the spread of these fires and are passionate about educating local communities about the importance of environmental protection for the surrounding ecosystems. To help prevent the spread of fire outbreaks, the AEECL joins forces with local villagers, local government and other organisations annually to establish firebreaks around the forests. These firebreaks are vital to protect the forests and the wildlife within. The last firebreak working party took place in August 2017, was attended by 860 people and 7km of firebreaks were established. The AEECL are also heavily involved in reforesting areas affected by fire outbreaks and planting areas that could reduce forest fragmentation and too provide a long term resource for villagers.

The AEECL believes that supporting the local communities is vital to ensuring the future for the wildlife and forests of the Sahamalaza peninsula and a good proportion of staff time and funds are utilised to improve the education system of the communities local to their work. To help, each year, AEECL sponsors 50% of the salary for 70 teachers to alleviate financial pressures on communities. There is an active and evaluated education programme with a strong message about environmental issues. Many schools have been renovated and in the past few months, and the AEECL have finished constructing its 2nd new school in the village of Ambinda.

To build greater bonds with the local villages, the AEECL look to support people in their everyday lives. This has involved such projects as building new wells for fresh water, providing solar energy panels, increasing employment opportunities, supporting tree nurseries for reforestation work and improving agricultural techniques.     


By investing in local communities through education, resource management and communication, this helps ensure the communities of today can forge a safe haven for wildlife tomorrow.

The Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (CRPL) was founded in 2013 to offer a permanent solution for the increased number of orphaned great apes confiscated around Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has supported the programme since 2013 and has donated over £24,600 to help enable the sanctuary to continue to receive confiscated animals, thus contributing to the enforcement of Congolese law by helping them to continue to receive primates intercepted from illegal trade.

Our 2017 donation was used to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for CRPL’s 173 primates for 10 weeks in the period April 2017 to June 2017. This funding also helps local communities, as the sanctuary buys all the food from local markets, injecting in the local community more than $3,000 per month. This helps the community to see the benefits of having the sanctuary in their village and increases their acceptance of conservation.

So far in 2017, the centre has finished several new constructions, developing new enclosures to improve the conditions of the primates in their care by providing them with semi-natural environments. In addition, during the first semester of this year, their education programme received more than 1,800 people, of which 96% were Congolese. As well as visitors to the sanctuary, the centre also educates Congolese militaries, instructing them about the important role they have in wildlife conservation. This is extremely significant as a large number of the militaries don’t know about their role in enforcing Congolese law and are implicated in several cases of wildlife trade.

Although the last two years have seen the largest number of arrivals at the sanctuary, data on the mode by which infants have arrived at the sanctuary also suggests the possibility that the increase in arrivals is at least partly due to increased awareness of CRPL and their effort to prevent the trade of live chimpanzees. For instance, a young female chimpanzee, Jina, was found by a Congolese man while the poachers were cooking her mother in front of her. The Congolese man felt sorry for her and bought the baby for around $10. He kept her in his house for a year, until he heard about the centre, and then personally contacted the Congolese authorities to bring Jina to CRPL. This case, together with the increased collaboration between Congolese authorities and locals NGOs, brings hope to CRPL’s work and the future of these species.

Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated £11,000 to VulPro since 2015.  Our funds help towards vulture monitoring expenses, covering field staff and activities related to several of the core colonies. This also includes power line sweeps below the colonies.

The monitoring programme notes population changes of the Cape Vulture in a standardized way so that counts can be compared across colonies and time, and helps to identify and mitigate potential threats impacting vultures in the region.  

There are three important elements of monitoring a Cape Vulture breeding colony: documenting its physical characteristics, estimating the number of breeding pairs, and estimating a number of demographic parameters, the most important of which is breeding success.

In 2017, colonies were first monitored in May-June to count the breeding pairs and to compare the number of pairs to previous years. From August- September, the nestling surveys commenced to count active nests, and then at the end of September into October, the third and last counts for 2017 commenced to record active nests with both fledglings and older nestlings.

As well as monitoring colonies, power lines are also surveyed. Power lines are one of the major threats that cause vulture populations to deteriorate rapidly, either by direct electrocutions or power line collisions. Colliding with these wires causes serious injuries, breaking wings and / or legs etc, resulting in many of these birds being permanently disabled. VulPro started power line surveys towards the end of 2014 for the purpose of building up a database to get accurate, representative information on vultures utilizing these structures and to estimate the mortality rates of vultures due to power line incidents. In addition, they are able to estimate hotspot areas in need of urgent mitigation in which to halt and reduce some of the mortalities and injuries surrounding breeding, roosting and feeding sites.

Ground surveys are done by walking below and along power lines, assessing each structure and collecting data relating to vulture and bird of prey usage. Over the past 3 years, there have been a number of power line surveys undertaken. A total of 7,635 kilometres in walking distance has been covered between October 2014 and May 2017, 440 structures of power lines surveyed, with a total of 36 vultures found dead on these lines either electrocuted or collisions.

We cannot expect the wild vulture populations to stabilize and/or increase with the rate we are losing them due to power line collisions and electrocutions jointly with all other threats. It is of utmost importance to work together in saving vulture species all over the world and make sure that the threats, which can be addressed, are done so sooner rather than later. Power line structures and cables can be made safer and this threat can be successfully addressed as long as conservationists and the electricity companies collaborate.

Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated £31,000 in support of Free the Bears since 2011.

bear enclosureThe majority of our support has been put towards enrichment and development at Free the Bears’ Cambodian bear sanctuary in Phnom Penh. In 2017, work continues on the renovation of the sanctuary’s oldest bear house and enclosure, originally built in 1997, including upgrading the night dens and replacing the roof. Rescues continue unabated, with the 202nd bear rescue arriving at the sanctuary on the 13th September 2017. After a long journey from Ratanakiri province, this female sun bear, weighing just 4kg, was bought in by the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team. She had been kept as a pet and had poor skin condition, which can indicate an incorrect diet being fed previously. At time of rescue, she was estimated to be around 3 months old, which is far too young to be without her mother. But with two dedicated carers on a 24 hour watch and four hourly feeds, in her first two weeks the little female gained 2 kilos and settled in well.

Action for the Wild’s 2017 donation was put towards the creation of a new world-class wildlife sanctuary in Laos  that will allow Free the Bears to end bear bile farming in this country, whilst also supporting government-led efforts to curb the illegal wildlife trade. The new site is over 50 times larger than the existing centre at Tat Kuang Si, offering the opportunity to establish optimal standards for the animals that will soon call it home.

At the end of September, after many months of hard work, the first group of bears took their first steps outside and onto the new Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. Xaykeo, Ninh, Dinh, Civit Sabai and Laos Rescue 46 (nicknamed Pak) now have a beautiful new home to explore, together with two Laos Ambassador bears, Lom and Vieng. The new enclosure covers approximately 2,000m2, almost twice as big as the bears’ previous home, with two climbing towers, aerial walkways, pools, caves and lots of bear enrichment.

This is just the first step on a long road to create a world-class sanctuary for up to 150 rescued bears in Laos. Ultimately, this new sanctuary has the space to house each and every one of the 120+ bears currently trapped in bile farms across Laos. Much remains to be done to build further bear houses and forest enclosures, hire and train more staff for Bear Care Crews and build and equip veterinary clinics to treat the bears once they are rescued. The Quarantine Area within the new sanctuary will house all incoming bears whilst they undergo health checks, as many of the bears from the bile farms will have serious health concerns that will need addressing before they can venture into the great outdoors. The Quarantine Area will also house the bear cub nursery and animal hospital in the future, with the whole complex covering around 2,500m2.

The construction team have also been busy preparing for other species, as the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary will also provide a home for animals confiscated as part of wildlife law enforcement efforts. Already nine monkeys, a leopard cat and an Alexandrine parakeet wait to move into their new home. Whilst the focus of the new sanctuary will be overwhelmingly on the bears, options for the placement of rescued wildlife are limited in Laos and so the creation of a new sanctuary to serve the northern provinces will greatly aid the efforts of the Laos government to address the illegal wildlife trade.

Bear rescues also continue in Laos, with Bear Rescue #49 arriving at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre on the 12th October 2017. After more than two years tucked away in a dark cage, the young female moon bear will begin a new life in Free the Bears’ care. After a short time to settle and check that she is not carrying any harmful diseases, she will get to meet others of her species and slowly be introduced to a far more natural environment than anything she has known for such a long, long time.

hornbill halfOn the 18th October, staff on UmPhafa got a wonderful glimpse of a pair of ground hornbills on UmPhafa. This is the first time this species has been seen on the reserve in many years!

Ground hornbills are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and, in South Africa, they are classed as endangered. Secondary poisoning, trade and persecution are estimated to have caused very rapid population declines in South Africa. Ground hornbills need a very large territory for each family group and the lack of suitable nesting sites restricts their increase in numbers.

Back in 2009, we created artificial nesting sites on UmPhafa so fingers crossed this pair take a liking to the reserve and decide to remain with us.

Since 2012, Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated over £24,000 to support the human-wildlife conflict work of the N/a’an ku sê Research Programme in Namibia.

Between April 2017 and June 2017, the Rapid Response Unit received 19 human-carnivore conflict calls. 

Of the two calls in April, one was of a weak cheetah cub caught wondering around a farm and the second was from a farmer who had caught a leopard  in a capture cage. The leopard was captured because the farmer suspected the animal to be responsible for his livestock losses. In May, the Rapid Response Unit received seven human-carnivore conflict calls. Of the seven calls, six reported leopard conflicts and one reported spotted hyena conflict. Two of the calls were requests for advice and five calls reported carnivores in capture cages. In June, the Rapid Response Unit received ten human-carnivore conflict calls. Of the ten calls, two reported lion conflict, four reported leopard conflict, two reported cheetah conflict, one reported spotted hyena conflict, one reported wild dog conflict and one caracal conflict. Almost half of the calls requested advice and six calls reported carnivores captured in cages.

In some instances, the farmers agree to collar and release the carnivores back onto their farms. For instance, on the 5th June 2017, the team received a call from a farmer who had caught a female leopard in a capture cage. The farmer wanted to collar and release the leopard on his farm to monitor the animal and prove whether she was a problem animal. The team went on site and anesthetised the animal but, once sedated, found that the leopard was too young to be collared. Young leopards cannot be collared because the collar will suffocate the leopard as it grows. The team explained that due to her size, it was unlikely that she is the culprit of any livestock losses. The farmer agreed to release the leopard on site, which is a true success. This farmer has more than 700 cattle and places his calves in his kraal until they are about three months. The farmer works hard to co-exist with carnivores on his land and has not killed a single predator in the last four years.

In other instances, the farmer wants the carnivore removed from his farm if he expects it of causing livestock losses. On 23 May 2017, the team received a conflict call from a farmer reporting a leopard in a capture cage. This leopard was suspected of being a problem animal, however, the farmer had no proof that it was. Despite the team’s best efforts, the farmer did not want to risk releasing a potential problem animal back on his farm so the leopard was therefore translocated to a protected area close to Windhoek.

These problem animals are moved to other safe areas almost straight away, such as a female leopard captured at the end of May that was released into Namib Naukluft National Park on the 2 June 2017, or alternatively the carnivores are released after a period of care, such as a juvenile leopard which was cared for at the N/a’an ku sê Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary for 18 months, as she was too young to be translocated and was eventually released in April 2017.

Since 2015 the team have received 126 human-carnivore conflict calls, of which 48 were requests for advice and 78 calls reported captured carnivores. The amount of conflict calls increases every year with 2017 being the highest, per month, so far. The team receives more calls every year, probably due to farmers becoming more inclined towards carnivore conservation and being more aware of N/a’an ku sê’s carnivore conflict mitigation work.

As of the end of June, the team is currently tracking eight carnivores fitted with GPS collars (two male leopards, five female leopards and one male cheetah) and continues to share the data with the farmers involved, thus building relationships and mitigating human-carnivore conflict. The data points from these GPS collars are shared with the farmers in the area to allow for close monitoring. As well as responding to conflict calls, the N/a’an ku sê Research Programme also conducts other research programmes. At the end of June, the hyena study team managed to dart and collar a spotted hyena from the north clan using a collared purchased with Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild funds. The GPS movement data of this individual will provide the team with more exact spatial ecology and territorial ranges of the spotted hyena in the south Namib landscape.

Since 2006, Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated over £78,500 to support Save the Rhinos International and specifically to boost the capacity and morale of rangers in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa.

Covering 960 square kilometres, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is based in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa and is renowned worldwide for being the historical home of the Southern white rhino. The Park has also played an important role in growing the country’s black rhino population.

Unfortunately, these populations have not escaped the rhino poaching crisis that has spread across Africa. In February 2017, the Department for Environmental Affairs released poaching statistics for 2016, confirming that a total of 1,054 rhinos were killed for their horn across South Africa alone. Although poaching is down in Kruger National Park, it is significantly up in other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal. Rhino poaching has escalated 10-fold in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park since the beginning of the poaching crisis in 2007. The pressure on the Park is now dramatically increasing as criminal syndicates are beginning to move to areas such as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Aerial surveillance and helicopter work are now an integral part of anti-poaching activities undertaken, alongside a huge increase in the number of extended camping patrol deployments away from traditional field ranger camps. The surge in poaching has forced ranger staff to work longer hours and keep especially vigilant during the night.

The Park’s budgets have been severely stretched by the cost of protecting rhinos, which impacts the availability of funding for equipment to support areas like the new dog unit and maintaining the picket camps and basic equipment, which are necessary for ranger safety, capacity and morale. As a result, Action for the Wild’s fund have contributed to purchasing equipment to ensure the maintenance and running of the camps, including handyman tools (such as wrenches, spanners, drills, etc.) and providing assorted field equipment (including assorted camping, cleaning and repair kits, battle jackets and military backpacks). In addition, we have assisted with the purchasing of 325 ration packs and 4 LED torches for camping for field rangers, ensuring that field rangers are looked after when they spend extended periods of time out in the field with the rhino that they are protecting. This purchased equipment increases staff capacity and lifts rangers’ morale, allowing them to deploy for longer periods in greater comfort.

A large amount of our funding was put into ensuring that the dog handler facility based in the Park was refitted and available for the staff and new dogs to be accommodated. Our funds helped to purchase the building materials, the necessary equipment for the dogs, and feed and veterinarian treatment for the canine units. Phoenix, one of the tracker dogs, has already assisted in tracking down poachers in the Reserve. Gunner is a cold-scent tracker dog, and is often used as a follow up after incursions.

Action for the Wild’s funds have thus been used to enhance Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park’s anti-poaching operations to protect its incredibly important black and white rhino populations and significantly help law enforcement staff combat further rhino poaching losses, and therefore contribute to preserving the indigenous biodiversity of KZN for the benefit of present and future generations. 

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