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Kasia to Canada

Today Kasia returns home to Canada after being with us in the Vivarium for the past 3 years. During this time she has been a highly valued and fully involved member of the team, who brought with her a great Canadian combination of enthusiasm, passion, and care, to help us deliver our programmes and maintain our important animal husbandry standards. She will be greatly missed.


We would sincerely like to thank her for all her hard work, commitment, and support during her time with us and wish her health, happiness, and every success in the future.


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Nature Recovers

Last week I visited a beautiful SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in Little Lever, Bolton. The comically named – Nob End, is a remarkable site, situated at the confluence of the rivers Croal and Irwell, in an area once dominated by industry and which still bears the obvious scars.

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The unassuming landscape of SSSI Nob End © Matthew O’Donnell

Once a dump for industrial by-products such as sulphuric acid and washing soda, the area has developed an unusual soil chemistry, making it unique in the region for it’s unusual and diverse assemblage of plant life leading to its designation as a SSSI. Nob End is perhaps most famous for its rare orchids, of which it is home to several species, which thrive in this human made calcareous soil.


Fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) © Matthew O’Donnell

This area is a fantastic example of nature’s ability to heal itself, even from some of the most serious levels of disturbance. Something I have been reminded of on an almost daily basis during lockdown. Lots of urban parks and green spaces within the Greater Manchester region have benefitted from a decreasing level of management, with meadows appearing where once only ‘green deserts’ (lawns) were present. Lawns, although aesthetically pleasing to many, offer little habitat for biodiversity.


Management is still an essential part of any long-term rewilding process, and leaving disturbed sites to rewild naturally is a difficult process, often these areas are dominated by a few hardy pioneer species, and might never return to a balanced ecosystem. But defining the right process of management is essential. Troublingly, the latest return to normality I have witnessed has been the widespread use of weed killers and pesticides to ‘control’ these spontaneous meadows that have popped up, and provided much needed habitats for much of our embattled flora and fauna.

These chemicals have an incredibly damaging and long lasting effect in the environment. Killing not only the targeted ‘weeds’ but also the pollinators, soil fauna and amphibians to name but a few groups. Some have even been shown to have harmful impacts on human health. My proposition is that we challenge our local councils to look at imaginative ways of managing our local green spaces, learning lessons from past successes in sites like Nob End, and help give nature a chance to recover.



U of M Community Festival: Fairytale Frogs

At the end of last month I was very fortunate to be able to contribute to the first ever virtual U of M community festival. Taking place entirely over the @McrMuseum twitter page, and entirely live, I joined our curators of Egypt and Sudan as well as Earth Science to talk about our collections. I invite you to view the segment below if you would like to meet some of the real life inspirations for characters in popular children’s stories, right from our very own collection.

U of M Community Festival 2020

Costa Rican Frogs – live on Zoom

Its been a busy week, where Matt and I have also been teaching on the Virtual Costa Rican Field course. On Sunday I had a live Zoom session with our students from the vivarium focusing on Costa Rican Frogs:

Review of the Fogger used on our Atelopus vivariums can be found here

Thank you DEFRA!

As a zoologist and Curator of a Zoo-licenced animal collection I want to thank DEFRA for what they are doing to keep us all, and the wildlife we work to conserve, as safe as possible at this time. You may be wondering why Zoos, wildlife parks and nature centres are not able to open at the moment, especially when we have seen flocks of people sunbathing on the beaches. This is because its less to do with social distancing and getting the economy going and more to do with the actual protection of us and the animals – the public needs to grasp that we contracted COVID from wild animals, and understand that many other species could easily catch it from us – and in turn they could potentially re-infect us after its mutated into something even worse.

Zoologists and biologists are currently working around the clock to try and understand how the virus could impact other species and which other animals may be highly susceptible .. its a race against time, but so important we get a clear understanding before opening the floodgates and then realising our biggest mistake.

The reason a visit to the zoo right now is different from going to the park or beach is that most zoos have tens of thousands of exotic animals within a small area .. and that means any mistake could have a catastrophic effect if it was to get out of control. We have all spent time waiting to see how COVID-19 affects our life, but what hasn’t been on the news is how it could affect the animals around us. It’s not fair to open the zoos just for our entertainment until the proper research is done – People sometimes forget that the world is made up of a lot more than themselves and whilst we focus on what’s effecting us humans many forget that animals around the world are also at risk.

For example, did you know that in Madagascar researchers are now self isolating and have rules that are not for just human contact but to help protect Lemurs thought to be at great threat from COVID. All the great apes, including Orangutans, Chimpanzees, and Gorilla’s all rate as very highly likely to be fully susceptible to COVID and if they get it it could affect them with much more strength than it does us humans. Can you imagine the shame if we wiped out the same critically endangered zoo creatures we’ve all put so much effort into trying to conserve, just through our eagerness and irresponsibility. We already know we can pass the virus to animals, and they in turn can pass it back to us – recently 10,000 mink had to destroyed directly because of this. How long do you think it would be before that happens from a zoo animal if we’re not careful. We are only just in the very early stages of this crucial work with a limited number of zoo animal species’ susceptibility assessed, based on prediction modelling.

I really feel for all my good friends and colleagues who are struggling in the zoos at the moment. My heart goes out to them. I don’t know what the answer is.. but maybe its not opening the gates just yet..

Thank you again DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for being responsible and waiting until we may obtain some real information to properly understand the susceptibility and involvement the many different wild animals play in the bigger COVID picture. Not allowing zoos to open yet is the right move – its so important we don’t open too soon as there is still some incredibly important work to be done before we know its safe for all.

As a zoologist who’s spent many years in conservation working with endangered species I would like to urge the public to consider the impact of what a family day out could do to extinguish all the vital research that biologists, not only in zoos but around the globe, have been working on to protect us and our wildlife. Let’s remind ourselves that we are the second most effected country in the world by COVID-19. Here in the North of England we still have an R-rated infection figure of more than 1, we know that this virus can already mutate and if a zoo animal was to pass it back to us then all the work being put into a virus vaccine is wasted. Since the start, this virus its still just as deadly, so is it right to be rushing back into everyday life and even thinking about taking children (the highest carriers of the virus) to the zoo? Now you have a zoologist’s perspective would you risk walking through the free flight bat cave, a lemur enclosure, or a potential sneeze drifting in the wind to a baby orangutan?

Once again, a heartfelt thanks to every single person working to save our planet.

Lemur exposure to COVID Emergency

Great Apes under threat of COVID

Mink pass COVID back to Humans

Outstanding Public and Community Engagement Award

Panama Wildlife Conservation Charity (PWCC)

Frog Fridays

Please join us on Fridays for Manchester Museum’s new Frog Friday – to be broadcast live from our vivarium at 1pm every week!


In the meantime, here’s a quick post to highlight one of my favourite enclosures here in the Vivarium, our mix species Poison-frog exhibit. This space has evolved over the years to the format that we have today, but even if I am a little biased, I don’t believe it has ever looked quite as good! Today it houses both the Strawberry Poison frog (Oophaga pumilio) and Green and Black Poison frog (Dendrobates auratus) as well as a few aquatic surprises in the front pond.

Even though we are currently closed, the animals and exhibits are still receiving the same level of care and attention, which means keeping on top of of the pruning that keeps our plants as well as our animals in fine fettle. These plants include many species that occur within the natural range of the frog species we house within the enclosures.

The result of this attention to detail is a well balanced ecosystem which can sustain lots of healthy species!


During times such as these, it is also important for us all to focus on our own health and wellbeing. During less challenging circumstances cultural institutions such as Museums play an increasingly important role. Thankfully, many of these institutions, including our own, have stepped up their online content, providing lots of really amazing resources for everyone to enjoy. I would thoroughly recommend taking the time to explore our dedicated website: https://www.mminquarantine.com/ and our new Frog Fridays (Live)


Strawberry-dart Frog    Jewels of the Caribbean

Help save Vanaqua

Important message from Darren Smy:

Atelopus varius zeteki, (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy of The Vancouver Aquarium.

Dear Friends, as you may have heard the Vancouver Aquarium is facing a crisis. While we are closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, our animal care teams are still at work ensuring our animals continue to receive the highest level of care. But this costs money, and without support we could be facing permanent closure in a couple of months. If you are able to help, please donate: https://vanaqua.org/saveva. No gift is too small to make a big difference!

For those of you that are not familiar with the work the Vancouver Aquarium has been involved with or continues to carry out please watch the video in the above link.

One other first I didn’t see mentioned is that we were also the first to breed Canada’s most endangered amphibian, the Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa), under human care and have been continuing to do so for more than 10 years and this has led to other institutions that form the Oregon Spotted Frog Recovery Team to also breed these animals for release. The offspring produced are released back into the wild to help sustain and boost existing populations to prevent thier loss from the Canadian ecosystem forever.

The online gift shop is still open for those that would like to donate that way https://vanaquashop.org/

The Vancouver Aquarium is a not-for-profit organisation and 85% of its operating budget comes from visitors at the front gate, cafe sales and gift shop purchases. Without that income the aquarium would not be able to function for long.

The aquarium is enjoyed by many people from all around the world and especially locals (those with kids particularly, who are probably all wishing it was open right now!) who I am sure would miss this educational resource and all the research and conservation projects that it continues to pioneer and provide. If you are in a position to donate and help out then please do!

Stay safe everyone and once things can return to some sort of normality hopefully the Aquarium will still be here for you to come and enjoy.



Its Hometime!

The latest from AMPHIBIAWEB



Caring For Our Collection During COVID-19

It warms our hearts to hear that despite the difficult times brought on by the on-going pandemic, so many of our dedicated frog sponsors and visitors still think about our collection, and wonder about our frogs as the University of Manchester as well as the Museum remain closed.


We would like to take this opportunity to reassure our frogblog readers and friends of our collection that all of our animals are still receiving the highest standards of care.
As the health and safety of our staff remain paramount during the virus outbreak, we have worked hard to devise a working schedule that accommodates the recommended social distancing guidelines, while continuing as key workers to provide all of the necessary resources and daily care for our collection.

In short, for our animals, nothing has changed (and if anything, our Fijian Iguana just loves grapes now more than ever.)