Lisa Cavanagh is a zoo keeper at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, but has just been whisked away to Christmas Island to fill in for the reptile conservation officer at Christmas Island National Park.
OK, so I know it’s not Christmas yet, but I’ve recently turned in my zoo keeper boots, said goodbye to my family, jumped on a plane and flown to Christmas Island to work there for a month.
Why? Well Taronga is part of a program to breed and make sure the rapidly declining blue-tail skinks and Lister’s geckos remain on this planet. They’re native to Christmas Island , but have suffered due to changes in the habitat, and introduced predators like cats, centipedes, snakes and yellow crazy ants. Lister’s geckos were actually thought to be extinct until they were resighted in 2009, so Christmas Island National Park started a great program, breeding the geckos and blue-tailed skinks in enclosures on the island to try and turn their fate around. The park then joined with us at Taronga and moved some of the critters to Sydney so we could also work on breeding insurance populations, and together share our knowledge, expertise and hopefully jointly make a BIG difference for these animals.
I look after the population at Taronga Zoo, so when the local reptile conservation officer went on holidays I was more than happy to spend some time on Christmas Island, get my hands dirty and get to know the local habitat of the animals I care for better.
Even though the island is Australian territory, it took forever to get there from Sydney. When I finally arrived, the first thing that struck me was how humid it was, although it made me want to sleep after the long journey, it’s great weather for the geckos!
The building I work out of is called the ‘Pink House’, there’s limited mobile reception, no Facebook and I don’t have a reliable internet connection, so it’s a big difference from the metropolis and overly connected city that is Sydney.
Apart from just generally taking care of the skinks and geckos each day, I am also helping the national park team determine the sexes of their blue-tailed skink population. Determining the gender is important to ensure that there is a good balance of males and females in each population for breeding however telling the difference between the two can be quite difficult, so we’ve got through five tanks and have about 10 more or so to go.
It’s hard being away from my family, but it’s amazing to be part of a program, working with the national park to safeguard the future for two amazing native reptiles!
I am planning to do more exploring of the island, so stay tuned! I’ll be reporting back to Taronga as I go, so follow my adventures on the Taronga Zoo blog.
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