Frog Friends at Jersey Zoo

by Tahnee Blakemore - October 13, 2018

To coincide with Mountain Chicken day on the 13th September, the Conservation Learning team at Jersey Zoo decided to hold an event celebrating the unique, but underappreciated, Mountain Chicken frog. The theming of the event was focused around the fieldwork in Montserrat, so our plan was to create an interactive ‘field station’ in the education building (we have quite the imagination!) We try to keep events practical and fun, but where people can still learn something new. The Durrell strategy of connecting people to nature is something we have to consider in all of our events.

After hanging tarpaulin, spreading bark chip and positioning what felt like a forest of potted plants, we were ready to welcome visitors to our field station.

In the field, scientists would process the frogs by scanning them for their PIT tag, taking measurements and swabbing them. Fortunately, we have quite a lot available to us in the education department- including microchip readers. This allowed us to be able to guide visitors through the same process with comparable equipment.

It was important for the little scientists to dress the part and follow proper protocols- so we supplied hats and gloves for the children to wear whilst examining our toy mountain chicken frog. The small gloves were still massive on little hands- which made for some cute photos! Role play can be an effective tool in learning – especially when we often get very young visitors.

The visitors had the chance to scan our frog using readers, weigh and measure it, test the pH level of the ‘pond’ water, and swab the frog to check for chytrid. We had pictures that showed staff members doing the same things in the field, which helped create a connection between the visitors and the fieldwork. We made sure that the frog was well looked after- he was gently returned to the ‘wild’ after being treated for chytrid!

Field staff had recorded some sounds from Montserrat which we played in the background to help set the scene. A recording of the distinctive mountain chicken frog call was used to give some life to our toy, and to show what the scientists have to listen out for. They can also spot mountain chicken frogs by recognising their red eye shine in torch light, so to recreate this we hid reflectors in leaf litter and asked visitors to see how many they could spot.

We don’t aim our events at only children- we had adults take part, and learn about why the mountain chicken frog is critically endangered. We also recommended to everyone that they take a look around the reptile and amphibian house after visiting our event, to go and spot the mountain chicken frogs in their enclosures; people seeing the frogs after learning about their plight can be effective in creating a connection. They can be quite difficult to spot, but by giving the visitors a few helpful tips about where they liked to hide, they would be rewarded with the memorable sight of the Mountain Chicken frogs!

By using a true or false game, we could address any assumptions people had about the Mountain Chicken frog, and it helped people remember something interesting about them (who knew they could eat snakes?!) It was helpful that the Mountain Chicken frog is such an unusual and unique amphibian!

As part of the fun, we also offered badge making, with a special mountain chicken day badge being created for the children (and staff!) to wear.

Durrell is very fortunate to have so many volunteers willing to help out across all the departments. We have some enthusiastic volunteers in the Conservation Learning department who seemed to have as much fun as the visitors did! We were also lucky with the weather- the sunshine brought lots of visitors to the Zoo.

Frogs aren’t quite as easy to engage people about as say, a cute mammal. However I believe the Mountain Chicken Frogs are perfect ambassadors for the important fieldwork Durrell does. Overall, 275 people engaged with the activities over the 2 days, which has doubled from the event last year. We are already trying to think of ways to improve and expand the event for next year!