One of my earliest memories as a child is that of sitting watching Italian wall lizards basking in the sun at my Grandparents house in northern Italy, how the the sunlight glinted off their scales like little gems and how they would dart for shelter at the slightest sign of a threat. Looking back on it now those moments were probably the first sparks that ignited my keen interest and passion in the beautifully diverse world of reptiles and amphibians (Herpetology).
Driven by this passion to work with reptiles I completed an Extended Diploma in Animal Management, all the while seeking volunteer opportunities that would give me the additional practical animal husbandry experience that is so desperately sought for in prospective keepers. Having volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation centre for 3 years, I was eventually offered the incredible opportunity to volunteer alongside the Herpetology team at ZSL London Zoo. This motivated me to specialise further by completing a degree in Zoology with Herpetology.
During my degree the previous voluntary position within the herpetology team at ZSL led to an opportunity working as a seasonal keeper within the same team. I also managed to secure a position as a PhD Research Assistant in Costa Rica, where I gained practical field experience working to estimate the prevalence of amphibian chytrid and ranavirus within the environment.
Upon finishing my degree a second opportunity working as a seasonal keeper at ZSL finally led to a full time position working within the herpetology team as a Trainee Keeper. I was fortunate enough to be given the responsibility of maintaining and breeding ZSL’s captive bio-secure population of critically endangered Montserratian mountain chickens, a very rare opportunity for a trainee keeper to contribute directly to conservation! Here is where I earned the title of ZSL’s “Mountain Chicken Queen”! In the last 2 years alone we have bred over 34 individuals who will contribute to the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP) in Montserrat.
Alongside daily care and husbandry we also conduct ongoing research into the physiology, reproduction and husbandry needs of the mountain chicken, something that was little explored until they were brought into captivity as part of the conservation program. As such we are able to provide ongoing advice to members of the MCRP team working in the field in Montserrat.