The last year for the project has been, to say the least, a rather intense one! We’ve been gradually moving from strength to strength; the creation of a SAFE haven against chytrid, the return of mountain chickens to Montserrat, our first nests (10 of them), and now on international volunteers day I’d like to introduce you to our newest strength and addition to the team, Rachel. Rachel is hear to train and work alongside us for the next 6 months, a critical phase in the project where we will for the first time be directly tackling the chytrid fungus during it’s most abundant and prolific season. Enough about us though, international volunteers day is about celebrating the wonderful individuals that dedicate their time to our causes, a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the work that they do. So without further ado, everybody meet Rachel….enjoy her story.
Hello! I’m Rachel and 2 weeks ago I started as the new volunteer for the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme here in Montserrat. Part of my job over the next 6 months will be to keep you all updated (via Throwback Thursday posts, of course) on what’s been going on within the project for the last year or so, so watch this space! Here’s a quick blog post just to introduce myself and give you an idea of how and why I came to be a part of this awesome project.
My love for amphibians and reptiles began as it does for a lot of people- in our humble garden pond. As a kid, few things compared to the excitement and magic of watching tiny palmate and smooth newts shimmying up to the surface to take a gulp of air or to hear a chorus of male toads serenading the females in chilly Spring evenings. After getting a leopard gecko aged 10, the deal was sealed- I was smitten with reptiles and amphibians. As I got older, I never grew out of this passion and still love exploring new places and searching for herps wherever I go – be it frogs in Bristol or hognose snakes in Madagascar.
The idea that I could one day help to conserve these wonderful animals led me to study Zoology in Cornwall, where I was lucky enough to try out a load of different types of fieldwork and surveying, the highlight of which was definitely studying colour change in Madagascan day geckos for my dissertation. Despite reptiles and amphibians being a firm favourite, my passion for conservation is actually very broad, and if I’ve learnt anything so far it’s that the key to successful conservation is to take a holistic approach and to make as many connections as possible! With this in mind, during university I had a great time volunteering with a hodgepodge of local conservation projects, from identifying the diet of otters by trawling through their poo with the local wildlife trust (more fun than it sounds!) to training to become a marine mammal medic for rescuing stranded sea-life.
For a year, I was also part of the committee for the university’s Herpetology Society, where we put on herp-themed events and I got an insight into the husbandry and ongoing conservation of various reptiles and amphibians. As well as being a great place to build my knowledge base and practical experience, the course made the aspiration of working hands-on with a conservation project seem less of a pipe-dream and one that might just come true with enough perseverance!
After university, I got a job working as a ranger at Wild Place Project, the sister site to Bristol Zoo. This involved engaging visitors with the inhabitants of Bear Wood (the UK’s extinct mammals- bears, wolves, wolverines and lynx) and helping to spread the message of protecting our unique woodland habitats to hopefully stop the loss of any more species. This was a fantastic opportunity and one that really sparked a passion for outreach and an awareness of the intricacies of re-introductions. It made me fully appreciate how vital communication and public awareness are to the success of conservation projects, as well as being a lot of fun and I can’t wait to use these skills to help people appreciate the beauty of the mountain chickens!
So when the opportunity arose to apply for this job, it sounded like an ideal situation and I jumped (or hopped) at the opportunity to help bring back the glorious mountain chicken! As its such a multi-faceted project, I’m super excited to get stuck into all the different components- I’ll be helping to sustain the live insect colonies, feed and conduct health checks on the mountain chickens, conduct surveys for remaining frogs, take steps to help the chickens increase their resistance to chytrid and of course provide social media updates and outreach events for local schools and communities to help involve as many people as possible with the project!
Anyway, that’s my journey up until now- hopefully you feel like you know me a little better! I’m thrilled to be here in Montserrat with the team and will keep you updated with how it’s all going, from cockroach feeding to mountain chicken swabbing!