[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][text_output]Each month the Amphibian Survival Alliance shines the spotlight on individual accomplishments for amphibian conservation through our Amphibian Champions program. This month’s Amphibian Champion is Esté Matthew, a Masters student at North-West University (Potchefstroom campus) in South Africa. Esté has always had a keen interest in wildlife and sciences. From a very young age she had a particular love of dogs and  was very interested in conservation. She was thrilled when she realised at university that it would finally be possible to combine her two passions in life.

Esté was also honoured at the 2015 Amphibian Conservation and Research Symposium in Cambridge, UK as a Future Leader of Amphibian Conservation, and where she presented her research on the use of sniffer dogs as a new method for finding elusive species for monitoring. This sniffer dog project was also a winner of an Amphibian Survival Alliance seed grant. You can learn more about this project here.[/text_output][line][text_output]What got you interested in amphibians?

I have always had a keen interest in animal conservation from a young age, and therefore it was an obvious choice for me to study in the biological sciences at university. I obtained a BSc. in Physiology and Zoology in 2012, and a BSc. Honours in Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology in 2013. At our university we are very fortunate to have one of the leading amphibian research groups in the country. I was exposed to their research activities at especially post-graduate colloquia and got fascinated with amphibian research.

What are your earliest memories of interacting with amphibians? Do you have any funny stories to share?

My earliest interaction with amphibians included my Dad and me finding frogs (mostly African clawed frogs) in our swimming pool at home. We spent some time netting them out of the water and releasing them in a nearby wetland.

When did you learn that amphibians were in trouble and how did this make you feel?

When I started my studies at the University I was shocked when I heard (during a first-year lecture) that amphibians where more threatened than any other vertebrate group. Knowing that the local general public mostly saw amphibians as pests (and less important than other animals) was a concern for me.

What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions? Do amphibians face a bright or a gloomy future? 

Some threats are seemingly easier to mitigate (e.g., regulate illegal trade) than others (e.g., prevent an epidemic from expanding). I suspect that all the awareness being raised through NGOs and social media, and advances made in conservation research that amphibians stand a much better chance of surviving today than they did a decade ago. However I believe that if we fail to continue expanding and improving these efforts further declines and even more extinctions might be expected.

Can you tell us a little about your current work and focus? 

After attending a colloquium about the use of sniffer dogs to locate precious minerals, I realised the potential for this concept to be applied to amphibian conservation, and immediately bought a dog and set about convincing my supervisor it was a good idea for a masters project! Fortunately, we have been very successful with the project; Jessie the Border Collie has been conditioned to indicate on live Giant Bullfrogs as well as dilutions of their scent (up to 1:100,000). She also has the ability to find scents that are more than 6 months old and is able to track the scent of live frogs over a water body in their natural environment. We are now focussing on training Jessie to locate threatened species (e.g., Amathole Toads) as part of larger conservation projects. .

What are some of the things that our readers can do to help protect amphibians?

The best advice that I can give readers regarding the protection of amphibians is that they should never just kill an animal they find, even if they are afraid of amphibians. The first thing one should do is get to know the species in your area and whether they are being endangered by any particular cause. Get in contact with any local organizations such as garden or wildlife societies that may be operating in your area, to discuss possible existing or new amphibian conservation campaigns that can be tailored to the specific needs of your community. NGO websites and social media are also great places to find new and innovative ideas to help protect amphibians. On a smaller scale, one can start by making your garden more frog-friendly.

What keeps you personally motivated and dedicated to saving amphibians?

Global amphibian populations have for the past three decades showed a concerning decline which has led to the extinction of some species. I am constantly motivated by the fact that I can personally, through my research, make a difference to the wellbeing of amphibians.

Using a sniffer dog can make locating amphibians much easier, which can lead to better research results and better informed conservation planning.

By doing our part for the animals we also hope to inspire other to do the same.

Follow Jessie’s work on Facebook and be sure to check out the amazing video below!

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