How does one become so fascinated with stuff that others find repulsive? Frogs, newt, lizards and tortoises and all the other herps we hold so dear are a nightmare for others. I have never viewed this group, or two groups to be exact, in this way. For me they have always been animals that are more than worthy of our respect, care and yes even love. Especially amphibians I have always found to be hardy and vulnerable at the same time. So to come back to the initial question. Why do I love these critters?
It all started when I was around four years old. My mother told me that back then I always was looking for frogs and newts and even wanted lizards in captivity instead of a bunny or something like that. But, for a young boy the skills to care for a lizard at that age was not yet within my grasp. Instead I kept tropical fish and yes, even an aquatic herp: Hymenochirus boettgeri. This species even displayed courtship, called, mated and laid eggs, but the tadpoles never came. I blame the fish, my bad of course.
Even when was older, around seven-eight years old, the fascination with herps never left my side. I grew up in the west of the Netherlands, a very agricultural area. My mother bought my first European field guide ( “Lanka. V., Vit. Z. 1985. Amphibians and Reptiles. Artia, Pragua, Dutch translation 1987). What a wonderfull book! Suddenly a lot of information was available to me! I learned on this early age which species were native to my country and what their habits are. In this time I caught a lot of common newts (Lissotriton vulgaris), common toads (Bufo bufo), common frogs (Rana temporaria) and edible frogs (Pelophylax klepton esculentus). During this time we got a small pond in our yard and soon the common newts discovered it. I was very happy staring in the pond watching their lives day after day. In the same time I also learned from new books I got that amphibians where on the decline. In my own, foolish, childish way I wanted to help them. Even I noticed that some of my favourite newt sites where being destroyed to create roads and bicycle paths in my hometown. How can I child help? I already had newts in our garden and the occasional toad also paid a visit but never bred in the pond. This had to change! Together with a friend (we were about nine) we created what we called a “toad sanctuary” in the garden. It basically consisted out of dug in buckets and containers filled with water and some plants. Needles to say, the toads never came. But it was a start. In the same time I started to write “books”. These books consisted out of folded papers with a drawing and description of a frog or newt. I showed them to my friends and family, trying to educate them (again a bit foolish) about my favourite animals.
Years went by and when I was about 10 or 11 it was time for my first lizard species: Eublepharis macularius. I got two beautiful, wild caught females. They were already adults and one of the females (my oldest lizard) is still alive and breeding! I estimate her to be around 22-23 years old. It is still my favourite gecko species and I am proud to say they are still in my care (still new wild types enter my little colony). After this I kept and bred loads of other lizard species and I still do. My interest revolve mostly around geckos but I also keep some other lizard like Cordylids, Lacertids and Agamids. I never stopped keeping lizards and later on also tortoises in captivity. It has helped me a lot to understand their behaviour and apply this knowledge later on to my field studies. On a young age I became involved in lots of herpetological societies and projects and this continues to this day (both in situ and ex situ). Which ones can be read in my bio.
Nowadays I try to find a balance between my field studies and keeping herps in captivity. Both disciplines have taught me a lot and continue to educated and surprise me. I have done field studies on Dutch herps but my interests and education also took me far across the border to places like Central America and South Africa. During our seven months in Nicaragua my girlfriend Carlijn Laurijssens and sampled several amphibian communities on Ometepe Island for Chytridiomycosis and Rana virus (article in press.). Also we have found range extensions of several snake and frog species in that same country and made an diversity analysis for both the reptile and amphibian communities on Ometepe Island (article in press.). In South Africa we have done an behavioural study on Homopus signatus, world’ smallest tortoise, for the Homopus Research Foundation (article in press.).
Back in Holland we continued our conservation work in the town we currently live in, Leeuwarden. I have come full circle with the project we have been running here for the last two years: helping a population of common newts, the same species that made me fall in love with herps in the first place, cross the road safely during their annual spring migration (and several other species). This has been published in the latest Issue of Froglog of the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (Laurijssens & Stark, 2013). Mostly students of our University are involved. We have run a course to get them acquainted to field work with amphibians. For our third season we would love to get parents and children form that neighbourhood to get involved. Who knows, maybe there is a young herpetologist among them.
So, in retrospect, why do I love these animals. The truth is that I honestly do not know. I just do and I don’t question why anymore. They are awesome and I am happy and honoured to spend my time and life in their service!
Author Details: Tariq is a herpetologist from the Netherlands who has done fieldwork with reptiles and amphibians in the Netherlands, Belgium, Central America and South Africa. His interest are infectious diseases in amphibians, herpetological biodiversity, taxonomy, surveys, habitat assessment, risk assessment and monitoring.