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Life on our Planet – 1 week to go!

Life on our Planet

From aquarium to vivarium… a little about me

I’m Bethany and I am pleased to introduce myself as the new curatorial assistant here at the Manchester Museum Vivarium. Last year I completed my bachelor’s degree in animal welfare and behaviour at the University of Central Lancashire during which I carried out my dissertation on the activity and visibility of different species of poison dart frogs before and after introducing environmental enrichment to their habitats. During this project I watched my frog subjects for over 400 hours and subsequently learnt the individual personalities of each, so if I didn’t love frogs before, I certainly do now!

During my degree I volunteered at a number of small zoos and aquariums in the North West before becoming an aquarist at the Lakes aquarium in Cumbria where I stayed for over three years, gaining experience in caring for fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. For the last two years I have also helped out my local native amphibians as a toad patroller in the Lancashire and Cumbria areas.

My love for wildlife started young, largely through my parents who always enjoyed nature and wildlife and encouraged my own interest. Over the years I was lucky enough not only to have a variety of animals in the home but also to see many species on family holidays.

Namely, one experience that stayed with me was a trip to Costa Rica in 2005 where I was able to see first-hand the life that thrived in the rainforests, some of which species I am now able to work with at the vivarium.

Ten later years, during my own travels when backpacking in Mexico, Central America, the Philippines and South East Asia I was not only able to experience the native wildlife but also the destruction caused to many habitats and witnessed the threats facing many species which inspired me to want to make a difference.

I am excited to start my journey at the museum, to care for a host of amazing species and share my passion for animal care, wildlife and conservation and hope to share many more frog blog posts in the future!

Food for thought (2)

We have known for years that it’s a spider eat spider world. Males get attracted to females, do their job well and get eaten up as par for the course. Spiders have veracious sex lives, and appetites. Spiders are cool, super intelligent, and jumping spiders more than most. But it seems these little creatures are looking for more than just a good jump. Actually, it seems things are a changing diet wise – did you know 20% of male M. sociabilis eat the females –  not sure where that latin name came from but that doesn’t seem so sociable to me.

Ctenidae (wandering spider) eating a tree frog, Ecuador (c) Andrew Gray

Spiders have a varied diet, they will eat almost anything that moves that they can tackle. Some I have seen on my travels will attack, kill, and eat prey items much larger than themselves, including large frogs. In fact in the neotropics amphibians make up a very large part of the food source of arachnids.

FROG EATING SPIDERS

Cupiennius getazi (family Ctenidae) feeding on a Scinax eleaochroa, Costa Rica (c) Amanda Bamford

From tadpoles predated upon by water-surface frequenting huntsman spiders to aggressive wolf spiders and sit and wait Ctenids inside bromeliads looking for metamorphs to emerge then consume, they represent a formidable predator of our amphibian friends. But that’s life, and death, and nature. Only the trees that we stand beneath and watch the tree frogs call in and the spiders make their fine webs on will still be there after we all are gone. The trees are what we need to revere and champion for the future for they behold the lives of so many species.

NEW PAPER: FROG EATING SPIDERS

ENTOMOLOGY MANCHESTER

Covid Campaigns – the slippery slope

They walked again along the same path, a path well-travelled during dealing with the current inexorable situation, a period where their fate being out of human hands had brought many inner tensions. For some a walk was all that was needed, for others, a campaign to put the world to rights – perhaps an unrealised natural human response to the times being lived in, whilst subconsciously trying to clear some of the underlying anxiety felt by initiating positive action towards some of the things they felt they could still directly influence and change for the better. Still, the path today, was wet. As they came to think about about it, it had been wet almost every day lately. Strange. There were no streams nearby, no underground wells, no heavy downpours of rain recently, not for days. Still the path WAS wet. Not to worry they thought, tranquillo, and so they let it go.

A week later, the path was wet yet again, but the air was fine across the fields, the birds sang louder than ever, no face masks required for them. But this path wasn’t always so wet, not continually, it was now actually flowing around their shoes. or was that just their imagination.

2 weeks later on their walk, and yet again, the path was still wet through. It hadn’t rained for the past several weeks. Where is this water coming from? their mind questioned – its now flooding the whole path, soon the slope would be a steam! Perhaps its a leaking water pipe? that must be it! Maybe its best to let the local water authority know about this.. Yes, something needs to be done about it – Its clean, fresh water, so who is responsible for it being wasted?

NO, tranquillo, enjoy the walk, don’t let the things that wouldn’t normally bother you to such an extent be the vent of any frustrations, their mind reminded them.

After 4 weeks the whole path had got so slippery. AS they walked the gravel path they were now adamant – Something needs to be done about this!! Just WHO is responsible!

I am going to do something about this they said to themselves, Covid or no Covid, don’t these people know clean water is precious!!!

They were now on a mission to take to task whoever was responsible ..

Start a Petition To stop Frogs wasting water here!

Or Start a Petition To stop Change.org making extortionate profit from other peoples’ genuinely good causes 

Life in Lockdown

COVID and Great Apes at risk

Thank you DEFRA

Time to Boycott Zoos?

From when I was a small boy I loved animals, and I loved Zoos. I loved everything about animals: Johnny Morris on Animal Magic, all great and small creatures in my back garden, Brian Simmons’ pet shop, my first South American wildlife book, and especially childhood visits with my Uncle Loz to Chester Zoo. I connected with animals in a way most people could not imagine. I enthused about them, knew the latin names at 7 years old, had every other kid in Ashton Gardens, St Annes, searching for frogs and newts; I took my grass snake to Roseacre junior school for ‘Bring a Pet to School day’. Memories! – but good ones!

Fast forward 50 years. My heartfelt sorrow now are Zoos – I now can’t stomach setting foot in one anymore. I should, I’m a zoologist, I link to them, I run a zoo-licenced conservation facility, what’s wrong with me? The truth is I live by the truth, and the truth from anyone who is as clued up as I am about animal conservation is that for profit zoos should be things of the past.

Yes, zoos have played a role in supporting species’ conservation – for a small number of endangered species they have supported some commendable field‐conservation projects. However, out of the 30K plus specimens maintained in captivity in some single UK Zoos the actual number that are critically endangered or of high conservation value are still but a fraction. So why are all the others there one could be forgiven for wondering?

Its clear zoos are now fully focused on being high profit commercial businesses. But how does the care, safety and life quality of the animals feature in their commercial success stories? I have good friends who still work in zoos, they are there because they care passionately for the animals, their well-being and conservation, full stop. They do not buy into giant fake dinosaurs for further public attraction, they do not buy into themed disney-style exhibits, they do not buy into integral themed hotels for local funders and Hey Ho supporters to stay in as they look across a makeshift African plain from their panoramic hotel window! It seems planning costly new accommodation (for human attendees) has been more at the forefront of priorities for some of the more commercial zoos recently, at least until lockdown.

No, I remember as a boy seeing the Chimpanzees at Chester Zoo – to be honest it was one thing from my memorable visits that really saddened me. Since then the keeping of wild mammals and birds in captivity in particular has never really sat well with me, mainly because I think their needs and requirements simply cannot be met. Back then I saw the little chimps looking sad, but I thought that’s ok you know, in time they will have a new place, something really befitting of a species that is so close to us humans, this is a cool zoo – I love it.

The cylindrical chimpanzee house/exhibit, often referred to in the zoo world as the goldfish bowl, was the result. Even before, providing the chimps with an outside space and life without bars had been a big move forward in zoo terms, and George Mottershead who had started the zoo had won an Mancunian award for taking his exhibits to the next stage in animal husbandry AT THAT TIME.. he must have been so proud. Ironically, George, the founder of Chester Zoo was driven by ‘His dislike for the Belle Vue Zoo and the conditions in which animals were housed there, which had a familiar ring about them to his own personal experiences as a lad at the London Zoo’.

All I hear about George Mottershead is good. However, I wonder if he would be so proud to know that all these years on, with all the new developments and resources available, that some of the same Chimpanzees still reside within that same exhibit. Maybe if George was still around they would now have the best exhibits imaginable, and the extensive 400 acres owned would be dedicated to just supporting endangered species, kept in optimum conditions, with quality rather than quantity being the focus. But perhaps that’s not a good business model for those now making the decisions or benefitting from the profit.

George Mottershead helped establish new ways forward in animal husbandry, that was his legacy, that was what Chester Zoo was originally all about. Since, with the millions of pounds over the years that Chester Zoo has grossed, the fact that this chimp exhibit still awaits replacement speaks volumes. From the oldest chimpanzees (50 year old plus) and newcomers born into a life of enclosed captivity, who wake each day let within the same glass walls of the pyramid with daylong public viewing, to the growing number of African-evolved wild animals allowed out to pasture on cold rainy English days, is subjecting such intelligent wild creatures to this kind of life really befitting of our time? I wonder what the chimps would say if they could make their feelings known to the real Company Directors?

I have experienced Zoos all my life and this wrong upsets me more than ever. I have seen a lot of change but if conservation rather than profit was the main aim then the zoos concerned would be different already. I am well placed to know the score, all the arguments for and against: Educational benefits V the isolation and unnatural surroundings of a captive environment; Captive breeding V never being able to be released in their lifetime; Half the longevity in captive elephants V those in the wild; How visitor numbers through the till are so important to some V how important it is a magnificent giraffe gets to enjoy the African sun on its back – and how far and fast it gets to run In the Wild..

 THE OXFORD STUDENT: TIME TO BOYCOTT ZOOS? 

SUPPORT WILD GIRAFFE CONSERVATION 

Glorious Garstang

Unveiling of the new environmental education panel with Stewart (left) and Colin (right). Photo: courtesy Chris Foster.

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Colin Sills, Stewart Sim and other volunteers from the Garstang Millennium Green whilst unveiling a new amphibian-focused information panel for the local pond. The Millennium Green Trust comprises of 70 volunteers who work tireless to ensure the local park alongside the river in Garstang stays well kept and beautiful.

Garstang Bloomers (Photo taken before social distancing was required!)

The Millennium Green is a real credit to them, as is the greenery in rest of the town thanks to the Garstang ‘Bloomers’ (above). The wildlife pond itself is a new venture, but is now getting very well established. I hope the new panel adds a useful contribution to its educational value for all the community, and especially the youngsters who I hope will engage in pond dipping sessions in the future – and for them that it may spark a real interest in nature and local wildlife.

I have been living in the beautiful Lancashire town of Garstang for the past 3 years and thoroughly enjoyed being in this wonderful part of the world – I am lucky enough to look out over the Trough of Bowland to see the sunrise from my window each morning, and my beloved Lake District is not so far away. Its a fantastic place to live and the people here are also fantastic too – I have the best neighbour anyone could ever ask for and the community here is something else. Garstang was officially the world’s first fair-trade town and with a beautiful river thats right on my doorstep its probably one of the most glorious places in the whole of the north-west of England.

Garstang Millennium Green

Euxton Millennium Green

Kasia to Canada

Today Kasia returns home to Canada after being with us in the Vivarium for the past 3 years. During this time she has been a highly valued and fully involved member of the team, who brought with her a great Canadian combination of enthusiasm, passion, and care, to help us deliver our programmes and maintain our important animal husbandry standards. She will be greatly missed.

 

We would sincerely like to thank her for all her hard work, commitment, and support during her time with us and wish her health, happiness, and every success in the future.

 

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Nature Recovers

Last week I visited a beautiful SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in Little Lever, Bolton. The comically named – Nob End, is a remarkable site, situated at the confluence of the rivers Croal and Irwell, in an area once dominated by industry and which still bears the obvious scars.

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The unassuming landscape of SSSI Nob End © Matthew O’Donnell

Once a dump for industrial by-products such as sulphuric acid and washing soda, the area has developed an unusual soil chemistry, making it unique in the region for it’s unusual and diverse assemblage of plant life leading to its designation as a SSSI. Nob End is perhaps most famous for its rare orchids, of which it is home to several species, which thrive in this human made calcareous soil.

 

Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) © Matthew O’Donnell

This area is a fantastic example of nature’s ability to heal itself, even from some of the most serious levels of disturbance. Something I have been reminded of on an almost daily basis during lockdown. Lots of urban parks and green spaces within the Greater Manchester region have benefitted from a decreasing level of management, with meadows appearing where once only ‘green deserts’ (lawns) were present. Lawns, although aesthetically pleasing to many, offer little habitat for biodiversity.

 

Management is still an essential part of any long-term rewilding process, and leaving disturbed sites to rewild naturally is a difficult process, often these areas are dominated by a few hardy pioneer species, and might never return to a balanced ecosystem. But defining the right process of management is essential. Troublingly, the latest return to normality I have witnessed has been the widespread use of weed killers and pesticides to ‘control’ these spontaneous meadows that have popped up, and provided much needed habitats for much of our embattled flora and fauna.

These chemicals have an incredibly damaging and long lasting effect in the environment. Killing not only the targeted ‘weeds’ but also the pollinators, soil fauna and amphibians to name but a few groups. Some have even been shown to have harmful impacts on human health. My proposition is that we challenge our local councils to look at imaginative ways of managing our local green spaces, learning lessons from past successes in sites like Nob End, and help give nature a chance to recover.

 

 

U of M Community Festival: Fairytale Frogs

At the end of last month I was very fortunate to be able to contribute to the first ever virtual U of M community festival. Taking place entirely over the @McrMuseum twitter page, and entirely live, I joined our curators of Egypt and Sudan as well as Earth Science to talk about our collections. I invite you to view the segment below if you would like to meet some of the real life inspirations for characters in popular children’s stories, right from our very own collection.

U of M Community Festival 2020