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Viennese Vivaria and Zamość Zoo

Vienna (5)Having returned safely from my week in Vienna I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on all I have learned from the  unique collection housed in the Schonbrunn Zoo Rainforest House.

I’d like to thank again the wonderful Rainforest house team for welcoming me to their place of work and I very much look forward to developing collaborations regarding Bornean species in the future. As they say in German, tausend dank!


My opportunities to experience continental zoological collections did not end with my flight leaving Vienna however. I quickly found myself in the beautiful medieval city and UNESCO world heritage site Zamość, in Poland, in the newly renovated Zamość Zoo. Deputy Director Łukasz Sułowski kindly offered me a special tour of their facilities, including the recently renovated and meticulously crafted Reptile House explaining how the interior was created by the staff by hand to achieve the spectacular rainforest effect which welcomed visitors imaginations to a tropical realm.

I was later also captivated by the Butterfly House, which contains a pool where visitors could catch a glimpse of a critically endangered Kaiser’s Spotted Newt (Neurergus kaiseri). Guests are often delighted with the sight of eggs and juvenile Spotted Newt as the ideal conditions in the gallery allows this species to breed freely on display. If you’re unable to make the journey out to Zamość in person, check out the amazing virtual tour of the Reptile House and Butterfly House in the links below!


Photo by Łukasz Sułowski©


It’s always a pleasure to meet more dedicated environmental conservationists and husbandry colleagues at inspiring institutions like Vienna Tiergarten and Zamość Zoo. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank again Director Gregorz Garbuz, Deputy Director Łukasz Sułowski and the keepers at Zamość Zoo for accommodating my visit, and I look forward to visiting again. And as they say in Poland, do zobaczenia!



Photo by Łukasz Sułowski©

Reptile House Tour      Butterfly House Tour      

Zoo Zamosc



Finding Borneo in Vienna

DSC_9740This week I’ve had the great fortune of finding myself in beautiful Vienna, at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo, to work on a collaboration between Dr. Doris Preininger with the team at the Rainforest House and Manchester Museum. While Schönbrunn Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world (beginning as an imperial menagerie in 1752) it has modernized with the passing of time and now boasts an impressive collection and facilities, not least involving their herpetological collection.

While my background focus has been Bornean species in the wild, I have had limited DSC_9415experience working with Bornean amphibians in captivity. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Preininger, Bettina and Sam and with their awe-inspiring Bornean, and other South-East Asian species. For example, this week I’ve had my first encounter with Wallace’s Flying Frogs (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), a cryptic species I was never lucky enough to find during my 6 month research project in the Bornean forest on the Kinabatangan river. These magnificent frogs use their enormous black webbing on their feet to glide from branch to branch, evading predators that lurk in the canopy.

DSC_9628I’m taking the week also to learn about Dr. Preiningers area of expertise; animal behaviour studies. My time is divided up between assisting the herpetological keepers with their daily routine, and spending time with the Bornean foot-flagging frogs (Staurois parvus and S. guttatus) to observe their unique behaviour. Both of these frog species have evolved to overcome the challenge of communicating over noisy streams by accompanying their calls with a “wave” of their hind legs. I was delighted to witness this behaviour first hand for the first time yesterday in S. parvus (pictured above).

I’m looking forward to learning more over the course of the week, and in coming face to face with more wonderful creatures!


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Foot-Flagging Frogs in Vienna

Park Panel

Spring is a stirring in the north of England – at least the snowdrops seem to think so!

On Monday I paid a visit to an old haunt of mine, a little village called Euxton in Lancashire where once I used to live. Here, Euxton Parish Council has been doing wonders with the local park (Millennium Green) and have now created a large pond. A beautiful boardwalk will allow visitors an opportunity to observe the establishing wildlife as the pond matures. It’s a great spot, even in February, and one can only imagine what it will be like at the height of summer.

Lucy (of Learning with Lucy fame) kindly unveiled the information panel, which of course included all the amphibian life we hope people will observe here in the future!

Euxton Parish Council


Harlequin Heaven

Searching for frogs has become a big part of my life, since my early childhood where I spent days in and around my local park’s pond. However, the frogs searched for nowadays are somewhat rarer. Here I find myself deep in the humid primary forest of the Santa Fe National Park, Panama. For the past few days myself and colleagues from Panama Wildlife Conservation, have been looking for the critically endangered Harlequin Frog, Atelopus varius.

We have been granted special permission to work with the species, assess the population, and the unusual habitat it frequents, in an effort to collaboratively support this colourful amphibians’ conservation.


Harlequin Frog, Atelopus varius (c) Andrew Gray

The species lives in flowing watercourses through the jungle, preferring to frequent the sides of powerful waterfalls and the moss covered rocks of fast-flowing streams rather than the surrounding primary forest. This makes for treacherous work, which is proving really hard going, but seeing these animals in the wild is simply heaven!

The fieldwork is just one aspect of the project, which also includes environmental education with the local community and an ex-situ component at Manchester Museum.


Panama Wildlife Conservation


Signing of official collaborative agreement  (c) Universidad de Panama/PWCC

Over the past week or so it has been my great pleasure to spend time with my wildlife conservation-orientated colleagues in Panama, particularly Dr Luis Urena and Dr Eric Flores. During this time we signed the official collaborative agreement to facilitate the University of Manchester and the University of Panama working together in developing important academic links.


Atelopus certus (c) Andrew Gray. Kind courtesy of the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Centre.

This will support international student learning, as well as facilitate important wildlife conservation collaboration. It was an honour to meet the President of the University (pictured) and the Ambassador of Panama. It was also wonderful to witness the excellent captive work being carried out at the Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Centre, where we were introduced to some amazing species of Harlequin Toad (Atelopus) by highly committed Gina Della Togna, who I would sincerely like to thank.


The Atelopus fieldwork aspect is particularly gruelling, but highly rewarding: searching for these Harlequins in the wild is truly magical, if not totally draining, as we spend several days negotiating slippery moss-covered boulders in fast flowing rivers, treacherous waterfalls, and dense, wet, tropical habitats these brightly coloured amphibians love to frequent.

Supporting the monitoring of Atelopus in the wild, and the collection of environmental data, is an important aspect of our collaborative project with PWCC in supporting these Critically Endangered amphibians.

More on what we find during our intense Harlequin Frog fieldwork coming soon!!!


The Story of Sylvia’s Frog


Film produced by Katie Garrett (@katieggarrett)

Cruziohyla sylviae


Paintings for Paignton

This week we had Luke Harding and Katy Upton from Paignton Zoo visit to collect ten Harlequin Toad specimens we are providing them with. The stunning specimens, which each look like they have been individually painted, are an unusual form of Atelopus spumarius. Paignton Zoo in Devon is now the only institution in the UK to keep these special South American toads.

Manchester Museum has previously maintained several species of Atelopus and this South American species was acquired to help us further develop our husbandry skills for keeping a related Central American species.

It’s a real pleasure for us to provide these specimens, which we can all learn from, in support of the great amphibian-related work already being conducted at Paignton Zoo. Knowing how committed Luke and Katy are to the amphibian conservation work at Paignton we feel confident the specimens will do very well there. It was really great to see them both again and we hope this will support the development of further links between our institutions.

Paignton Zoo Amphibian Ark Experience