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

Amphibian Ambassadors

On the 27th October, Professor Amanda Bamford of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, and I were invited special guests at a meeting in London of all the UK ambassadors of South and Central America. The meeting of the Group of Ambassadors of Latin America (GRULA) included a prestigious luncheon at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane and a presentation by myself and Professor Bamford highlighting the outcomes that have materialised from the excellent relationship the University and Costa Rica have developed.

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His Excellency Mr J. Enrique Castillo Barrantes, Prof. Amanda Bamford, and myself.

The special invitation follows years of important amphibian conservation work being carried out here at Manchester Museum and through the more recent creation of a student field course in Costa Rica and a holistic environmental education initiative developed by both of us.

The meeting, hosted by the Ambassador of Costa Rica, His Excellency Mr J. Enrique Castillo Barrantes, provided an excellent opportunity for us to show the University of Manchester’s commitment to developing effective international collaborations and potential in supporting teaching, research and world wide cooperation. His Excellency wholeheartedly thanked us saying ‘It was a great day for Costa Rica and its embassy in London. I am so proud that we can show the University of Manchester’s and Costa Rica’s commitment to science and environment protection’.

It really was a privilege to be invited as special guests to the meeting, a very special experience and one I will never forget. The opportunity to represent Manchester University and highlight the work we are able to do in respect of our collaborations with Costa Rica, and to also meet all the Ambassadors of Latin America, was such an honor. We greatly appreciate the relationship that we continue to build in support of all our joint Costa Rican efforts and hope our input at the meeting will facilitate many more opportunities for international collaboration and the development of academic links.

Professor Bamford says it was a unique occasion to present our work in Costa Rica; highlighting our collaborations with local schools, both in Costa Rica and Manchester. Importantly, we were able to showcase the University of Manchester students’ key role in developing many of the education resources used in our community environmental programmes.

Since the meeting several new developments have already started presenting themselves for the university, including the possibility of new student placement opportunities and research collaborations in other parts of Latin America.

Fit For The Crown

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Male Anotheca spinosa © Matthew O’Donnell

One exciting species that we have been lucky enough to work with over the last couple of years is Anotheca spinosa a hylid frog found throughout Central America. Better known by its common name, the Coronated Tree frog is a rare species, little understood and understudied due to its cryptic nature.

These frogs spend the majority of their lives in and around tree hollows, they breed in these private ponds and even rear their tadpoles on a diet of unfertilised eggs. This means that they are infrequently observed in the wild and not a great deal is known about their behaviour.

One of the main reasons that we keep unusual species here in the Vivarium is to develop a greater understanding of their natural history, the more we know about these unique species the better equipped we will be to conserve them.

Myself and Adam recently published a previously unrecorded behaviour, observed in this species for the first time at Manchester Museum. We witnessed males using the bony crowns on their heads to combat each other, attempting to leaver each other out of the water filled tree hollow that they breed in.

Combative behaviour such as wrestling is witnessed in many species of amphibians especially in males competing against each other for the chance to breed. However the use of this species bony crown is something you would associate more with rutting stags rather than a tree frog!

For a more detailed account of our observations please follow this link, the note can be found in the most recent publication from Mesoamerican Herpetology and is free to access. You can also watch this combative behaviour in the short video clip below.

 

Combat behavior in captive male Coronated Treefrogs, Anotheca spinosa

The Coronated Tree Frog, Anotheca spinosa

 

All you need is… Chocolate!

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White-faced Capuchin, Costa Rica (c) Andrew Gray

Of the four species of monkey that live in Costa Rica the White-faced Capuchin is the only one that is omnivorous, eating many things ranging from flowers to lizards. Mainly they like to eat fruits and seeds, and are particularly fond of cacao seeds, the basic material in the making of chocolate.

Fifty years ago, cacao plantations dominated the lowlands of Costa Rica. By 1984, chocolate trees still grew on more than 19,000 hectares of Costa Rican land, but around that same time the deadly monilia fungus arrived, killing off 80 percent of the country’s cacao plants. Most of the trees were uprooted and replaced with more profitable pineapple and palm oil farms. However, it seems Costa Rican cacao production is again on the rise … to meet the world’s increasing sweet taste for Chocolate.

291cc2b9acf2361d0e4776f5ee0c4088This month sees  Puerto Viejo’s Chocolate Festival 2016 come into full swing, and what better place in Costa Rica to have this event. If you are interested in wildlife, food, beach life, or just chilling and eating chocolate, this place a fabulous place to visit. We take our students to this area every year during our field course and they get to see how cacao is organically grown and chocolate is made first hand. They also get the opportunity to sample it on many occasions! One place we eat at is Bread & Chocolate, a super cafe I have been visiting for many years and can highly recommend for a fantastic breakfast or lunch.

Bread & Chocolate

Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival

13501548_241146962935964_9121610611448663288_nIn Costa Rica or not, a big chocolate fan, or know someone that is, chocolate always goes down well on the menu!

This Costa Rican lime-drizzled chocolate and coconut cake, inspired directly by my daughter visiting Puerto Viejo on the tropical Caribbean coast with me many years ago is bound to hit the spot. For the full recipe and easy making instructions why not check out:

OMG foodie uk

 

Our visit to the Vivarium

On the 22nd of August, after having had contact with Andrew for over a year, we finally went to visit the Vivarium in Manchester. After dropping our stuff at the Chancellor’s Hotel, we met at the Museum. We discussed many things involving our thesis project, the Vivarium itself and the work that is currently done there. Afterwards, we went to the Vivarium and got a tour backstage, where we got to meet all the species that are currently being kept at the Vivarium. The frogs and toads look very healthy and well-taken care of.

The next day, Andrew and Adam took us to the Lake District National Park, to look for herpetofauna in the English scenery. The weather was perfect! We found quite some slow worms, adders, lizards and toads in the field! Here in the Netherlands, you can’t find this many slow worms in one area!

On our last day, we went to the Museum again, this time to view everything the Museum has to offer. What a great job they have done on involving the visitors, allowing us to really want to understand the science found there. We said our goodbyes to Adam, and received a beautiful painting of the Lemur leaf frog, which currently holds a very special place in our living room.
How fortunate we are to have met such passionate and generous people. Andrew and Adam truly want what’s best for herpetofauna and the global environment. We can’t wait to go there again soon!