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New exhibitions

I’m really looking forward to later today, as it’s not often when I get to preview the opening of 2 exhibitions in the same night.  The first is at The Whitworth Art Gallery and is called The Land Between Us. It’s an exhibition developed by Curator Mary Griffiths that highlights some of the Whitworth’s outstanding collection of historic art alongside recent and contemporary work. Mary blogs at: http://thelandbetweenus.wordpress.com/

The other exhibition opening I’ll be attending is here at The Manchester Museum and also promises to be superb. It’s a touring exhibition called CHINA: Journey to the East and combines some fantastic objects from the British Museum. I know many of our staff, including Curator Stephen Welsh, have put a lot of effort into this exhibition so it should be top notch. Stephen has also just set up a new blog especially in relation to the exhibition at:  http://manchesterkingmonkey.wordpress.com/

I have to say that I find Oriental traditions and folklore of particular interest. Did you know that ancient Chinese folklore has it that frogs or toads are really magical custodians of the secret to immortality – and that they’re are also meant to symbolize carefree enjoyment and spontaneity – don’t know about you but sounds good to me!

Come to think of it, have you ever wondered about those little 3-legged toad figures you see with a coin in their mouths, and what they actually represent? Well I have, so, just now, quite spontaneously :-), I decided to find out… 

According to Chinese legend, apart from getting the blame for swallowing the Moon when there was an eclipse, a 3-legged toad called Ch’an Chu was once a powerful demon that had a strong craving for wealth. It wreaked havoc in the human world until the Taoist Master Liu Hai  managed to tame it with his magic powers. As Liu Hai was fond of giving charity to the poor and helping the needy, the supernatural wealth seeking ability of the toad was just what he required. With the money that the toad gathered everyday, Liu helped countless people to escape from poverty. Thus, the 3-legged toad was revered as a divine wealth fetching creature by the ordinary people. Liu Hai, who was an actual minister in the Imperial government of 10th century China, was proficient in Taoist alchemy but he ended his days in exile.  From these times on, images of Liu Hai and his toad have been considered good luck charms and to represent prosperity. A popular depiction is of the man with his toad sitting on his shoulder. 

In  the Vivarium, we have a small display of small Oriental carvings that includes Gama Sennin, the Japanese equivalent of Liu Hai:

A Feng shui tradition later developed to place a gold or copper image of this toad in your house or shop to bring luck. According to this tradition the toad should face outwards in the day, symbolizing it going out to find money for its owner; and when the night came, it should be turned to face inwards, symbolizing it coming back to spit money into the house. I think I must get one 🙂

Whether it works or not I guess is another story, but perhaps its better to believe that, as where this story originated with Lui Hai, in reality, its the giving to others that’s the sure way to true wealth.

The Return of Sumo

When I first started working at The Manchester Museum, some fifteen years ago, I was dissapointed to find that there was only one frog in the vivarium – but what a magnificent frog it was! It was huge Argentinean Horned Frog, and the records indicated that the beautifully coloured animal had been aquired as an adult some  twelve years earlier. It was amazing.

Developing its educational and conservational use, the live collection  was soon expanded to include a wide variety of unusual and rare frogs. Our first exhibition to start raising public awareness specifically about these wonderful creatures was in 1997 and was called ‘The World of Frogs’ . It was a huge success, and featured many species from around the world, including the Horned Frog, who is aptly named Sumo.

Thinking back, I remember cleaning the inside of the Horned frog exhibit one day when the frog lunged forward and grabbed hold of my thumb in it’s strong jaws. Horned frogs have huge mouths and I can remember how painful and powerful the bite was to this day. The trouble was that I couldn’t actually get the frog off my thumb, and I was surrounded by schoolkids. One little boy asked calmly, as blood ran down my hand, – does it hurt mister? Of course I just grinned and beared it :-).   

Anyway, after the exhibition ended Stapeley Water Gardens wanted to feature the exhibition and Sumo was also provided to them on loan. Last year Sumo also featured in the British Museum’s Darwin Exhibition. With the unfortunate closure of Stapeley Water Gardens, Sumo has now returned to Manchester and resumed pride of place in our Vivarium. I have to say that am ever so grateful to all those who have looked after Sumo over the years and would particularly like to thank Valda Williams from Stapeley for her support.   

Although Sumo is at least 30 years old, we still have no real idea how old Sumo actually is. However,  Sumo  looks as healthy and as bright as ever – and is still a huge star of the Vivarium,

and it seems now of Manchester…….


Opportunity knocks

Work experience with reptiles and amphibians, and in fact experience working with most exotic animals, is always a quite a rare  opportunity for those hoping to develop a career in Zoology or Herpetology. Over the years we have offered many  placements  for University Zoology students in the Vivarium at Manchester, and these we hope have not only provided the individuals with valuable work experience, but have also produced some excellent preliminary research to support  better captive husbandry of the animals concerned. Both are extremely important, and a such, we continue to try to help provide such opportunities whenever possible. The most recent placement we were able to help facilitate was for one our Zoology students, Rebecca  Cliffe,  to work on project at the sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica which I mentioned last year.  Rebecca has just arrived there and for anyone interested in following her progress  please check out her new blog: http://beckycliffe.blogspot.com/

Not all the placement opportunities allow students to work in such exotic locations, but if you are a zoology student that is interested in taking time out to conduct a small research project, get valuable work experience with exotics animals,  and are passionate about supporting conservation, you might like to get in touch (please contact either myself or Jane Thomas our Placement Officer). At the moment we are working to fill several voluntary research opportunities that have become available,    which have placements that range from spending a month working with  Endangered frogs in Spain next summer to working for up to year on a new Critically Endangered tropical frog conservation project being developed in collaboration with another reputable institution in London.

Providing different personal development opportunities for our Vivarium staff is also something that is extremely important. Only last week, Adam, one of my assistants (Pictured with Snow Leopard), returned from his exchange visit to Norden’s Ark in Sweden, a fantastic place where he had an amazing experience learning from staff and also sharing his knowledge. We are extremely grateful for their collaboration and support in providing this wonderful opportunity and look forward to welcoming Kristofer from Norden’s Ark when he comes to Manchester. To see video clips of Adam’s visit, including Norden’s displays of mossy frogs, Mountain chickens, and native Swedish herp conservation, please see his section of the blog.