Viper or not?


Bornean Keeled Green Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) © Matthew O’Donnell

Whilst in Borneo I was incredibly lucky to see a wide range of snake species, ranging from the impressive and photogenic pit vipers, to the less charismatic but equally intriguing slug eating snakes.

Many of Borneo’s native snakes are venomous, however in the field it is not always immediately clear what species you have come across, which is why caution is always the best policy when encountering snakes in the wild!

This is especially true when you come across species such as the painted mock viper (Psammodynastes pictus), these snakes are visually similar to the true vipers (Family: Viperidae) however they are actually a type of rear-fanged coloubrid, with venom that is thought to be harmless to humans.


Black-headed Cat Snake (Boiga nigriceps) © Matthew O’Donnell

I was lucky enough to be accompanied by local snake expert and Maliau Basin Ranger – Mas, who’s wealth of experience really helped in finding and identifying snakes as well as many other nocturnal animals! Notable snake finds included two species of cat snake, black-headed cat snake (Boiga nigriceps), mangrove cat snake (Boiga dendrophila), a reticulated python (Python reticulatus) and the blunt-headed slug eating snake (Aplopeltura boa) as well as many more.

Mount Kinabalu      SNAKES       Superb snake sightings

Mount Kinabalu


Mount Kinabalu – © Matthew O’Donnell

On the 11th of January, I embarked on my first ever rainforest trip, as part of my Wildlife Conservation MSc from the University of Salford. I was lucky enough to travel to the Sabah, the northern Malaysian state of Borneo where over the last two weeks I have visited some of the most pristine examples of Borneo’s national parks.

My first stop was Kinabalu National Park, famous for its mountain as well as its spectacular flora and fauna. Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak between the Himalayas and Papa New Guinea, rising to over 4,000 meters above sea level. This elevation has resulted in a variety of habitats and environmental conditions stretching from the lowland foothills to the barren rocky peaks.

These variable conditions and the contrast with surrounding areas have created an island like situation which harbours many endemic species amongst its vast biodiversity. Estimated to contain 5,000 – 6,000 species of vascular plants alone, it is a hot spot for ferns and epiphytes where I saw hundreds of stunning species including many beautiful orchids. Renowned for its birdlife I spent many hours trekking the trails around the Headquarters failing to get many decent pictures of any of this colourful birdlife, I think I’ll stick to what I know. I did however manage to see some of the intriguing local reptile and amphibian life before heading back to the lowlands.

I also got an up close and personal introduction to rainforest wildlife, finding tarantulas in your bedroom will always be a novel experience!

Although I only had a couple of days up here before my field course began it was certainly worth visiting and is somewhere I hope to return to in the future. A quick thank you to Hans Breuer, who provided information and advice to help make this visit extra special.


Mt. Kinabalu foothills © Matthew O’Donnell


Never too much of a good thing ..

David2 copy 2

Sir David with Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calarifer (c) Andrew Gray

For those who missed it the first time round, the BBC are replaying Sir David Attenborough’s Fabulous Frogs, much of which you may remember was filmed here with our collection:





Happy ‘New’ Year!

Something universal 🙂

Merry Christmas, and beyond

img_246195What a year its been! .. changes to make many of us think  – What IS the World coming to.

Well, maybe it is coming to fulfil its natural progression.

Whilst celebrating my Birthday in the heart of Manchester last week, amid the bustling city life that now prepares for Christmas and the intense urban environment that I usually do my best to stay clear of, a good friend reminded me that just as other animals create their home and shape their environment to suit, we humans are no different: The technology, the ‘advanced’ way we live our lives in the man-made environment we have created, is no different. He asked me what the difference was between ‘man made’ and ‘natural’? A good question seeing that we are animals. Maybe its the child-grown zoologist in me that doesn’t let me separate humans and animals so easily, but I think recognising that connection is something that can really help give things perspective: it can help aid an understanding, forgiveness, huge appreciation, and a deep care for what we hold dear.

Truth is, we humans are the worst thing ever for the planet, where all life has a right to live. Sadly, we cannot help ourselves. We are only human after all, as the song goes. If the way we think, treat each other, is simply based on what we experience and our human traits then why are we so surprised that our world is evolving as it is..

photo36Humans feature in but a very short chapter in the history of the world. As a new year unfolds, let us all hope it brings with it a greater understanding between people, different cultures, and also a fuller appreciation of the other wonders of nature we share our precious time with on this planet. It is still a beautiful world.

2017 … Bring it on!

With all best wishes,

Andrew x

Last orders tomorrow

Frogflyer_front copyStill thinking of what to give that hard to buy for person at Christmas?..

Perhaps Sponsoring a Frog or donating in support of a critically endangered species on their behalf might be just the ticket!?

Donation Gifts can be for any amount, and for this a special letter of thanks together with a limited edition print and conservation pack will be sent out directly to your person of choice.

Lemur Frog Sponsorship also includes a lovely book on Frogs and Toads of the World by Chris Mattison, and the opportunity for a behind the scenes vivarium visit!

Don’t miss the date – Due to the postal strike starting Monday our last day for Donation Gifts and Frog Sponsorship this side of Christmas is 16th December and we only have a few sponsorship packs left!

DONATE A GIFT                                            SPONSOR A FROG

Reaseheath realised

Over the past couple of weeks I have been visiting Reaseheath College in Nantwich, and yesterday I was there again to meet staff and conduct a talk for students belonging to their Herpetological Society. We have been developing links with Reaseheath for several years now, providing student talks on amphibian and reptile husbandry, supporting student placements in the vivarium, and providing work experience opportunities whenever we can. Currently we also have a valued student from the college, Luke Hartley, who volunteers with us in the vivarium each week.

college-logoAlthough I had heard many good things about Reaseheath I had never previously visited to actually see the facilities for myself. However, after receiving a kind invitation from Joe Chattell, one of their highly experienced animal keepers, I jumped at the chance to visit their School of Animal Management recently and was so  impressed with what I found. I soon realised it is a fabulous place with first rate animal facilities and quality teaching staff.

Reaseheath College was actually the first college in the UK to obtain a zoo licence and it currently houses around between 150-200 species of animals including Lemur species, serval, tapir, kestrel, black cheek love birds together with an extensive collection of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates that include corals.
They have won awards from both BIAZA and the blue cross for conservation and animal welfare efforts and I have to say that I can certainly see why.

copperYesterday I visited with Adam and we got a full tour of all the animal facilities, including seeing the great new developments that are taking place in preparation for even more species. As well as meeting Joe and other highly committed keepers we also got the opportunity to meet with Simon Maddock, who we are developing a collaboration with at the moment in relation to amphibian DNA research. Simon has been working with species from the Seychelles and researching some extremely interesting aspects of amphibian development. We also met with Lauren Lane again, the Animal Collection Deputy Head Keeper who oversees much of what we saw yesterday – A busy place with over 600 students and 50 teaching staff in the Animal Management section alone!

It was clear that the Reaseheath Zoo staff work tirelessly to provide up to date training and facilities for all their students and external delegates, keeping the animal’s welfare at heart. Lauren echoes the keeper’s and teaching staffs efforts – “We really do value each and every animal. I’m also super proud of what my staff and students achieve. Working in a facility where you deal with nearly 700 students training, where very little ever goes wrong and so much is achieved, is incredible given the sheer numbers we deal with. This is all credit to our staff

katydid1It was a real pleasure to visit Reaseheath College and we are very grateful to the staff taking time out to spend with us. We look forward to developing further links in an effort to support student learning and animal welfare in partnership with Reaseheath. Many thanks again to Joe and all the team.

Reaseheath College offers courses from level 1 all the way up to Zoo Management Degrees: Animal Science degree courses

Reaseheath Zoo is open to the public at certain times throughout the year: Reaseheath College Facebook

Simon Maddock highlights research        Andrew Gray with Reaseheath tapir