Durrell at the World Congress of Herpetology

by Jeff Dawson - September 28, 2016

Every four years people from across the world come together to share a common passion and celebrate achievement and advancement … no not the Olympics but the World Congress of Herpetology!

This year, whilst the world’s biggest schools sports day was taking place in Brazil, China was hosting the 8th World Congress of Herpetology. Bringing together academics, researchers, conservationists, keepers and enthusiasts from all corners of the world, the WCH is the largest gathering dedicated to the study and conservation of amphibians and reptiles. With Durrell’s commitment to amphibians through our SAFE Programme as well as projects on numerous reptile species it was an obvious event for us to attend, which both myself and Matt Goetz, Durrell’s Head of Herpetology were lucky enough to do.

The Legend Hotel, Tonglu

Hangzhou, located around 170km west of Shanghai and home to over 9 million people, was to be the conference’s location. That was until two days before it started when, with the G20 just 3 weeks away, the authorities decided that it was probably best to move the 800 or so herpetologists to a new location! Whilst this came as a bit of surprise to most if not all, especially after 32 hours of travel, the transition was remarkably smooth and we found ourselves 100km away in the friendly and welcoming, if very hot, city of Tonglu.

The riverside Legend Hotel (see left) was the new conference venue, complete with innumerable tonnage of marble, external night led light displays and some excellent buffet lunches. Spread over five days, with six simultaneous sessions occurring throughout, the conference covered a diverse range of herpetological topics from venom evolution in snakes to emerging infectious diseases to landscape conservation genetics to refining priorities for global amphibian conservation.

jeff-prsenting-at-wchMatt and I were not just there to listen however but also actively participating. In conjunction with DICE – University of Kent and Amphibian Survival Alliance I organised a symposium to explore amphibian conservation breeding programmes and how to improve their design and status. With eight speakers from five countries, presentations covered a spectrum from the current status of and barriers to holding amphibians in zoos; the considerations for prioritizing species for captive programmes through to reintroductions and case study examples of how captive programmes can support amphibian conservation.

From the outset however, I wanted the symposium to be more than just a series of thought-provoking talks, and gratefully the conference organisers provided time to hold a set of roundtable discussions. This enabled us and around 40 participants to discuss and get thoughts on four key questions surrounding amphibian ex-situ conservation.  The feedback from participants was very positive with a number of interesting suggestions and ideas, all of which is currently being written up for a published article.

matt-presenting-2This was my first WCH and first major international conference and will certainly be one I remember. Hearing talks on a range of amphibian conservation issues from the latest disease threats, to novel monitoring approaches and successful translocation projects is thought provoking and inspiring. It was also a great opportunity meet new like-minded people, chat about all things herp, discuss ideas and develop potential new collaborations; as well as catch up with old colleagues and friends.

As the conference drew to a close with a traditional Chinese banquet, the expressions of gratitude to our hosts and conference organisers were very warmly given by all and reflected how successful it had been, despite the inauspicious beginnings. In four years’ time the eclectic herpetology world will descend on Dunedin, New Zealand and I hope Durrell will be participating again and continuing to support efforts for this wonderful and threatened group of species.

My utmost thanks go to Gemma Harding and Richard Griffiths from DICE, for helping me organise and run the symposium and all of the speakers: Ben Tapley, Zoological Society of London; Michael McFadden, Taronga Zoo, Australia; Phil Bishop, Amphibian Survival Alliance; Leida dos Santos, University of Otago, New Zealand; Claudio Soto-Azat, Universidad Andres Bello, Chile; Matt and Gemma and lastly all those who participated in the round-tables.

some-the-symposium-presentersSome of the speakers (l to r): Claudio, Phil, Leida, Richard Griffiths, Jeff, Gemma, Michael