Turtle beach

Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island, Florida (c) Tara Gray

Boca Grande, Gasparilla Island, Florida (c) Tara Gray

South-west Florida has some of the best beaches in the world, and 5 of the 7 species of sea turtle also enjoy swimming their warm waters. These species range from the smallest sea turtle, the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, to the largest of them all, the Leatherback Sea Turtle, which grows up to an enormous 9ft long. The endangered Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas, which is mostly herbivorous, also swims elegantly through the water here, using its large paddle-like flippers to propel itself.

Awaiting the Florida sunset (c) Andrew Gray

Awaiting the Florida sunset (c) Andrew Gray

Green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches where they lay their eggs. Once the sun has set, female sea turtles will pull themselves out of the water onto the beach and then  go on to dig a nest and lay eggs in it overnight. After incubation, those baby turtles that hatch and go on to reach maturity may live to eighty years in the wild. However, its so sad to think that although it is illegal to collect or kill these wonderful creatures, in some countries both they and their eggs are still being illegally harvested.


Green Sea Turtle, Florida (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

Green turtles have a very wide distribution and the same species is found on the caribbean coastline of  Costa Rica. For most green turtles in the Caribbean the mating season is from June to September, but here in Florida its slightly later and will continue until the end of this month.

To find out more about sea turtles and their conservation please follow this link:


Across the pond

photo[6]At the moment I’m in Florida, after flying across the pond only a few days ago. However, before leaving for the US, we had a special visitor travel across the pond the other way, coming from Atlanta to Manchester especially to visit the vivarium and see our frog collection. As such, I would like to give a big shout out to Tess Yaney, Atlanta Botanical Garden’s dedicated intern.

Tess works with the amphibians at ABG and is now the egg, larvae and reproductive care specialist there. It was a great pleasure for Adam and I to meet her earlier this week and we wish her all the very best for the future!

ABG – Displays         ABG – Conservation         ABG – Frogpod

What we see..

photo[5]What would they have given 100 years ago to see what we see today…

We look out the window and what we see we take for granted, well many of us do.

We are the direct descendants of those people, we carry their genes, we carry their experiences, passed on through generations, we have evolved..

But we are still the same. We share the same fears, aspirations and hopes for the future. We are part of the history of the future.

What we see when we look out the window is truly wonderful, if we too take the time to appreciate what we see, whether that be a strand of heather covered in frost, the sun reflecting off the colorful breast of a songbird, or the blue sky as it meets the horizon.


 Where Eagles dare

Chelonia at Chester

This Saturday, 18th October, sees The British Chelonia Group’s Northern Symposium, which is being kindly hosted by Chester Zoo. Non-members are also welcome to attend this symposium, that runs from 9am – 4pm.

Εικόνα 038Speakers on the day are to include Siuna A Reid, a top Veterinary Surgeon from Lytham St. Annes in Lancashire with a good deal of Chelonia Treatment experience and several books on the subject to her name. She will speak on ‘Unravelling The Secret Of Hibernation’. Also speaking will be Julian Sims, Jen Jones – the Projects Manager of the Galapagos Conservaton Trust, Mike Wilkes  – a photographer and guide with 12 years experience in the Galapagos, and Andy Browne who will talk about his rescue centre’s work with Chelonia.

Cost to attend the Northern Symposium is just £30 including lunch, tea/coffee and Zoo admission.The BCG have also been fortunate enough to have been given a limited edition Giant Tortoise print by the renowned wildlife artist, Robert Fuller, for auction at the Symposium in support of further fund raising. Although I am away myself in Florida this weekend and so unable to attend to this event, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Chelonia and in helping support of this superb group.

The British Chelonia Group           Chester Zoo        Florida Sea Turtle Conservancy

A new recruit


Me with a Giant Monkey Frog

Hi, my name is Matthew O’Donnell and this will be my first blog post since joining the Vivarium as a part time Curatorial Assistant in August. I’m very proud to be able to post on the Frog Blog, a blog I’ve followed for a number of years and I hope you will enjoy finding out more about me and what I’ve been up to through my future posts.

My first two months have been everything and more than I could have wished for. It is a great honour for me to be able to work with such talented and experience individuals, not to mention the unique and wonderful collection of reptiles and amphibians that the vivarium maintains.

It has been an action packed first few weeks and I would like to extend my thanks to Andrew, Adam, Tom and all the staff at Manchester Museum for being so welcoming and for helping me settle in so quickly. I hope to repay their faith in me by bringing in my own ideas and expertise to help keep the well-established high standards of the Vivarium in place for the years to come.


Preparing a varied diet for the Fiji Iguana

For those of you that are interested I thought I would give you a little information about me and my background. I am a graduate of Zoology from the University of Salford with 15 years’ experience working with reptiles and amphibians first as a hobbyist and more recently in a professional capacity:

I starting working at Viper and Vine an exotic pet retailer in Manchester and then moving to Chester Zoo where I worked in both voluntary and paid roles within the Herpetology and Invertebrate departments. Having grown up in Manchester some of my first encounters with exotic species of reptiles and amphibians were at the Vivarium in Manchester Museum, I was lucky to have such a fantastic resource on my doorstep and I know first-hand the influence such an establishment can have on the development and nurturing of a love of the natural world. It was this love of the natural world and specifically reptiles and amphibians that resulted in me choosing a career path that would allow me to work closely with these groups of animals.

Male Fijian Iguana at Manchester Museum

Male Fijian Iguana at Manchester Museum

Something I have been working on in these first few weeks is behavioural enrichment, which is a really exciting area to explore with animals. It basically looks at ways to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of animals in captivity through the use of stimuli.


Enriching the lives of the animals in our care is something that I and the rest of the team here in the Vivarium are very passionate about. One of the most exciting aspects of enrichment is that you can never do too much, and part of the fun is thinking up new novel ways to enhance the lives of the animals under your care – you can look at a variety of areas but the ones I have been focusing on lately are sensory enrichment, feeding enrichment and environmental enrichment. This short video is an example of some of the feeding enrichment I’ve been carrying out with the Fijian Iguana we have here in the Vivarium.


Norden’s Ark

Maintained in natural conditions, more snow leopards reproduce at Norden's Ark than anywhere else in the world. (c) Andrew Gray

Maintained in natural conditions, more snow leopards reproduce at Norden’s Ark than anywhere else in the world. (c) Andrew Gray

Before leaving Norden’s Ark in Sweden I was able to witness once more the wonderful way in which all the animals are being maintained there. Most people know my feelings about the keeping of many mammals in captivity, but Norden’s Ark is no Zoo. This is the largest Conservation Centre in Europe and its land stretches as far as the eye can see. Animals maintained there live happily in huge fenced of mountainside exhibits, in conditions perfect for them to thrive and reproduce. Its really amazing to get up close to species such as Amur tigers and Snow leopards at feeding time, and the whole experience with the big cats there has been amazing.

On a slightly smaller scale I also got to witness the new developments being made with the reptiles and amphibians at Norden’s Ark, from the new Lemur Frog conservation facility thats being purpose built, to the new rearing facility used for supporting the conservation of the previously mentioned native Green Toad.

Kristofer Försäter, Norden's Arks lead herpetological keeper.

Kristofer Försäter, Nordens Ark’s lead herpetological keeper and committed amphibian conservationist.

Kristofer Försäter is highly instrumental in these developments, from the design of the new facilities to the management and maintenance of the animals. I have known Kristofer for many years now and I cannot speak highly enough of his knowledge and his commitment to providing the best conditions for the animals in his care here at Norden’s Ark. He is a true ambassador for their work in amphibian conservation.

As the work by this non-profit conservation organisation continues to develop and impress, I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to visit and witness this special place to do so. In my opinion, Nordens Ark’s exhibits and the captive conditions in which they maintain their animals are some of the best in the world and the importance they place on supporting related in-situ conservation is wonderful.

I would sincerely like to thank all the team at Norden’s Ark for making this visit so special. I would especially like to thank Emma and Kristofer for sharing their passion for the animals that they care so much about and I must also of course thank Professor Claes Andrén, their Scientific leader, for his overwhelming hospitality, valued support, and his guidance and friendship which means so much to me.

Below Kristofer Försäter and Prof Andrén show the green toad rearing facilities at Norden’s Ark and also the release of animals back to native habitat:



 Norden’s Ark Visit, 2009, (includes video clips)     

Green Toads of Öland

At the moment I’m in Sweden, visiting my good friend and colleague Claes Andrén, Scientific Director at Norden’s Ark. It’s been a wonderful week experiencing the wild nature of Sweden, and the visit has also provided an important opportunity for us to progress our collaborative conservation initiative ‘Project Lemur Frog‘.


Green Toad, Bufo viridis, Sweden (c) Andrew Gray, 2014

During part of the week I’ve also had the chance to join Claes and his team travelling across Sweden to Öland, a wonderful large island situated in the Baltic Sea and joined to mainland Sweden by a 6Km long bridge. The trip was a very important one, as the special habitat found in Öland is the last place in Sweden suitable for the native Green Toad, Bufo viridis.

The captive breeding and re-introduction of this toad by Norden’s Ark highlights their commitment to working with local communities and supporting the conservation and protection of native flora and fauna, something clearly as important to them as the wonderful support they provide to the many threatened species across the globe.

Öland is a very special place and the dominant environmental feature of the island is the Stora Alvaret, a limestone pavement which is the habitat of numerous rare and endangered species. It is also now a World Heritage Site.

New ponds created especially for green toad conservation at Ottenby

New ponds created for green toad conservation at Ottenby

During the trip we also got to meet Susanne Forslund, who works closely with the local community here and has dedicated 10-15 yeas to supporting all the flora and fauna found on Öland. She has also been instrumental in establishing 3 ‘LIFE’ projects.


Susanne’s dedication and passion for the place is overwhelming and what she and her colleagues have accomplished is truly admiral and highly inspiring. The green toad reintroduction, back into the place the last green toads in Sweden once occurred, and in partnership with Norden’s Ark, is only a small part of her achievements – but none the less impressive to witness first hand.

Susanne Forsater and Claes Andrén, Prefessor of Conservation Biology, releasing green toads bred at Norden's Ark

Susanne Forslund and Claes Andrén, releasing green toads bred at Norden’s Ark (c) Andrew Gray

Part of the toad project has involved developing and  supporting specific environments where the introduced colonies of toads can then grow. These include creating new ponds at a protected Bird reserve in Ottenby, southern Öland, and protecting a 87 hectare coastal meadow area at Hogby hamn in northern Öland, which she manages with the full co-operation and collaboration of local farmers.

It was a real pleasure to meet Susanne, and to participate in the releasing of the green toads, raised by Norden’s Ark, by her and Claes this week.


LIFE-BaltCoast            Norden’s Ark        Lucy’s Toad on Tara’s Page


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