An introduction of new Dutch students

Hello, we are Dick Lock and Fleur van der Sterren, Dutch Wildlife Management students at the Van Hall-Larenstein University of Applied Sciences. In September, we started our final thesis in corporation with the Vivarium. This thesis will be on a very special population of Harlequin toads in Suriname. But that is a whole other story and we will keep you updated over time as this is still in its early stages. Andrew Gray asked us to introduce ourselves and tell/show some of our experiences of our previous trip through the Balkans.

I will start of first, my name is Dick Lock, I’ve been interested in herpetofauna since I was about 12. I knew I wanted wildlife to be a part of my future job. So I decided to start the study Ecology & Wildlife. During this study I’ve been on study trips and internships around the world such as Spain, Greece, South Africa, Thailand and the most important for me: Suriname. Here, I fell in love with the country and its incredible flora and fauna. So much that I went back during my next study, Wildlife Management, to guide tours there in 2014 for two months and later in 2015 went on another 6 month internship together with Fleur.

Hi everyone, I’m Fleur! My main interest is Wildlife Disease, which covers broad health-related issues among wildlife populations around the globe. My love for herpetofauna only started in 2013, as my main focus was mammals before that. When we went on a study trip to Poland, I found my first spadefoot toad. For everyone who doesn’t know what it looks like: a small toad with eyes which seem way too big for its head. After having placed it back on the ground, it immediately started digging backwards with its hind feet, to place itself under moss, glaring at me. This was the first time I caught myself thinking of amphibians as being cute and innocent creatures. This led me to the Dutch Wildlife Health Center in Utrecht, where I combined these two interests with research on Ranavirus (a virus affecting amphibians). And after our internship in Suriname, I was completely sold. Amphibians truly are the marvels of science.

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Triglav National Park view

Well, now our experience in the Balkans! We teamed up with Martijn, also a Wildlife Manager, but specialized in birds. And Jos, a Forestry student specialized mainly in dragonflies and butterflies. The four of us decided to figure out a route that would bring us to many great spots and National Parks. However we did not only wanted to make this a typical holiday but also some sort of a study trip so we contacted some researchers in the hope of joining them and learning from them.

In the picture below you can see a part of our route. We started out at Fleur’s family in Germany and headed of for the following locations: Triglav National Park (Slovenia), Velebit National Park (Croatia), Sutjeska National Park  (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Durmitor National Park (Montenegro), Uvac Special Nature Reserve (Serbia), Prokletije National Park (Kosovo), Valbona valley (Albania), Skadar lake (Montenegro), Hutovo Blato National Park (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Trebinje (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

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In Valbona Valley, Albania, Catherine Bohne was awaiting us. We’ve helped her with making a list of rare insect species in the great mountainous area with huge potential. She needed a list like this because the Albanian government is planning to blow up a part of the mountain range in order to make room for a hydropower installation. She is trying to contact as many specialists as possible to create a list of protected species and present it to the government in order to stop devastating projects like this. Unfortunately, the bad weather conditions in combination with food poisoning, did not favour us. Eventually, we were able to successfully gather DNA material from bear scats, which will be analyzed in Slovenia, to indicate the density of the bear population in Valbona Valley.

In Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, we were in the company of Brian Lewarne. He guided us through the area and taught us many things about the hidden underground karst ecosystem in this area. He showed us some of the entrances to this ecosystem inhabiting the rare Proteus! This salamander can grow up to 33cm in this area (in some areas even up to 50cm), it has no pigment, no eyes, external gills, internal lungs, can age up to 120 years and can go without food for at least 15 years! This is practically all that is known about this animal, all of them being extraordinary! Brian is trying his best to gather more information about the secret life of these animals, and also to battle illegal trade and habitat pollution! We have helped him measuring water qualities at different sites and doing a biometric essay on a Proteus.

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Biometric essay of Proteus (Proteus anguinus)

The summer is a great time for insects, so we encountered many beautiful and rare species. However for birds and herpetofauna the summer is not such a good time. Nevertheless we managed to keep up our goal of 1 snake every day of the 23 day roadtrip. These were some of the herpetological highlights:

Thank you for reading our story, we hoped you enjoyed it and its photos! We will keep you updated on the work performed during our thesis and stay at the Vivarium!

Dick and Fleur

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