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Keeper Stories – Thursday, March 16

A couple of weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure and honor of being an instructor for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group’s (say THAT 10 times fast) Amphibian Biology and Captive Management Course (aka Amphibian School) hosted at Detroit Zoological Society’s National Amphibian Conservation Center (affectionately called the NACC). Amphibian school? How awesome does THAT sound?!

This course is designed for zoo and animal care professionals to learn more about proper zoological management techniques for amphibians. Amphibians often have very specialized requirements throughout all life stages, so a course that helps increase knowledge and capacity for keepers of all levels to manage those requirements is invaluable. Beginning around 10 years ago, the course was in part a response to rapidly declining amphibian populations worldwide and the zoo community taking on the charge of increasing capacity for working with threatened amphibians at their facilities. I have been honored to be an instructor for several of these courses in their various iterations over the last few years. This year we had over 20 students, including international students from Ecuador, Mexico and Haiti.

So what can one learn at Amphibian School? Well, topics range from amphibian taxonomy to how to properly drill holes into glass aquariums (a required skill for any would-be amphibian keeper), how to safely ship amphibians from one part of the country to the other, how to properly utilize live plants (happy plants = happy frogs), and all other manner of amphibian-related topics. We also got to have the amazing experience of travelling to Belle Isle on the Detroit River to observe sampling techniques for one of the largest salamanders in North America, the common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). It is always fun getting into the field, but I have to give the students and the Detroit Zoo/Belle Isle Nature Center staff major kudos for actually donning waders and getting into the freezing water to check mudpuppy traps! Not only was the water freezing, but the wind had several of us “old timers” shivering and hiding in the warmth of the car!

The next time you are checking out the amphibians in Scaly, Slimy, Spectacular, as you admire the beauty and diversity of these wonderful animals, keep in mind that there is an entire class that people from all over attend just to learn how to keep these animals right! Take care, everyone, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll be seeing some of you younger zookeepers-to-be in the classroom at Amphibian School!
Robert Hill
Assistant Curator of Herpetology

Photo by Penny Felski

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