IN JUNE I was fortunate to visit the excellent zoos of Pilsen (Plzen), Prague and Ostrava. My conclusion at the end of this exciting week was that the Czech Republic is the new European nucleus for zoo knowledge and innovation. The work in conservation and education is outstanding and their curators are among the best in the world.
In Pilsen I met Tomás Pes, a remarkable man. After a couple of hours in his company you are left in awe at his extraordinary knowledge of the plant and animal kingdoms. This knowledge is never flaunted. Tomás is a very modest and likeable person.
His personality and interests have made Pilsen Zoo into one of Europe’s most interesting and extensive botanical and zoological gardens. It is rare to find a location that does justice to both these titles. Tomás is the head botanist. His whole family – wife, son and daughter, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in June – are passionate about plants. They spend their holidays in remote parts of Europe, South Africa and New Zealand searching for and photographing rare plants.
Tomás is also curator of birds and curator of small mammals. He is deeply involved in conservation and this is reflected in many of the species of plants and animals kept in the zoo. Here you will find many unusual ones, especially island species of conservation concern. Much nearer to home, Tomás has been involved for more than a decade in a conservation project for corncrakes (Crex crex), and for three years also in the reintroduction project for the little owl (Athene noctua). Populations of both species have suffered a massive decline in the Czech Republic. Many weekends are spent monitoring and ringing the birds, checking nest-boxes and observing agricultural practices in the last occupied habitats. In 2018 a pair of released little owls reared five young. All seven birds were fitted with VHF transmitters so that their progress is tracked via a satellite.
Pilsen Zoo opened nearly 100 years ago, in 1926, founded by an aquarist association. In 1963 it moved to a different part of the town, in Lochotin, and in 1981 it merged with the Botanical Gardens.
Tomás Pes started out as a forester and was later employed by the Botanical Gardens.
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