Monday, 26 January 2015

Visiting The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

When I was younger, a friend, Digby Munns, who was a secondary school English teacher and a world birder suggested that I read “My family and other animals” by Gerald Durrell.  John Martin, the Avon County recorder, also recommended the book to me and so I thought I would read try the book.  It was the first of a trilogy and was a false autobiography about a ten year old Gerald’s interaction with wildlife in Corfu.  The trilogy was absolutely amazing and really inspired me to do even more with wildlife.  So, when I got the opportunity to visit the charity set up by him, it was extra special.

Gerald Durrell

The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is a charity involved in a lot of projects, trying to save critically endangered species.  They are based at Jersey Zoo, but in the summer 2014 they opened an office in Bath for their conservation science team to work from.  The office is only half an hour from our house and so, it was amazing to be able to visit and find out more about what they are doing there

Gerald Durrell

They are involved in an innovative project called the Durrell Index, which shows that despite the fact that the organisation is small, it may be the most effective wildlife charity around.

A Young Birder's Visit to Durrell

I went to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust office in November on a Friday afternoon straight from school.  I was met by Richard Young who is Head of Conservation Science.  He provides research and technical expertise to Durrell’s conservation programmes.

They seemed pretty pleased to see me and had prepared a video and a slide show to present to me.  The video was about saving the Madagascan Pochard which they are doing with WWT and loads of other organisations but I had thought that the project was being run by WWT on their own.  They are involved in lot and lots of conservation projects, which I didn’t realize was them.

In 2006, Madagascan Pochard was rediscovered on a Lake in Madagascar, having been thought to be extinct for 15 years.  When Durrell got to the heavily forested lake, there were only 20 Madagascan Pochard left and it was breeding season but our guide knew where a nest was.  When they got there, they found another really rare species of bird of prey which was feeding off the Madagascan Pochard.  It was like “ok no, we are going to destroy its food source but the Pochard is rarer.  They collected three clutches of eggs and they hatched 23 of them, with this captive breeding population being kept in Madagascar.

Madagascar Pochard

I also met Jeff Dawson who is the Amphibian Programme Officer who is responsible for the overall development and coordination of Durrell’s amphibian programme and its projects.  Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate group in the world with over 40% of all known species believed to be threatened with extinction.
When the Montserrat Mountain Chicken Frog was on the edge of extinction, they made a move within 10 days to carry out an emergency response.  They stabilized the situation and five years on they are part of a coordinated effort to ensure this species does not become extinct.

Another slideshow they showed me was about saving the Montserrat Mountain Chicken Frog.  They went Montserrat to survey the numbers and see how many were infected with the fungus that was killing all the frog species.  The fungus sticks to the frogs’ skin, covering their pores, clogging them up.  They were looking for the frogs in streams with small brown stones and the frogs were small and brown.  So the only people who were able to spot the frogs were the local guides.  They were sending all the skin samples back to a lab back in Britain to test and find out how many of the frogs were infected with this killer fungus.

Monserrat Mountain Chicken Frog
Copyright Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

It was really amazing that they made the time to meet with me and show me clips about some of the projects they are involved in.  Durrell is quite low key but at the same time the lead on lots of projects that I know about, but did not know about their involvement.  I really admire what they are doing, so much of which is science based. 

The Trust also run courses and hopefully when I am older I can go to some of these.  Gerald Durrell once said in 1976 in The Stationary Ark

“Thus the Trust would become a form of university…where people can get the correct training….and then take their talents back to form conservative units throughout the world”.

About the writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mya-Rose Craig is a 12 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker.    She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.  She has recently been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people.  Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter

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