Frog ambassadors Dame Jane Goodall and Dr Phil Bishop admire a Maud Island frog at the University of Otago zoology department frog laboratory yesterday. Looking on is master’s frog researcher Morgan McLean. Photo by Gerard O’Brien. In many settings it would be considered impolite to talk of faeces in front of a Dame, but that was not the case at the University of Otago’s frog laboratory yesterday.
The Dame in question, international authority on chimpanzees and peripatetic environmentalist Jane Goodall, was only too keen to join in.
“Faeces are so useful,” she told a group of frog researchers, extolling the virtues of what could be discovered from them, including the relationships between parasites.
Zoology lecturer Dr Phil Bishop suggested he would rather deal with “frog poo” than with chimpanzees’, which he thought would be similar to humans’, but Dame Jane quickly told him that since chimpanzees were nearly all vegetarian, their offerings were “quite pleasant”.
The discussion followed the researchers speaking briefly about their projects, one of which included analysing rat droppings to see whether rats were eating frogs.
During the laboratory visit, Dame Jane, who met Dr Bishop when they were both frog ambassadors during the Year of the Frog in 2008, was also able to meet some of New Zealand’s frogs.
New Zealand frog species have no external eardrums, have round pupils rather than slit-shaped ones, they do not croak regularly and most do not lay eggs in water.
The first New Zealand frog Dame Jane met is known as No8 and has been with the laboratory for five years. No8 is an Archey’s frog, the smallest of the four native species.
The Stephens Island frog (also known as Hamilton’s frog), which is closely related to the Maud Island frog, is one of the rarest frogs in the world with a population of about 300.
She viewed the most prolific native frog, the Hochstetter’s (population about 100,000), which has the unusual ability of being able to jump backwards.
When it came time to sign the laboratory visitors’ book, Dame Jane (77) , who spends about 300 days a year travelling the world speaking about her chimpanzee research and environmental issues, was unsure of what to enter under address: “I don’t have an address.”
As she rushed to her next engagement, Dame Jane had time to answer just one question from the Otago Daily Times about her views on young conservationists.
Dame Jane said many young biologists “get very depressed” because they were told all the time about situations that were seen as hopeless.
She had written her book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species are Being Rescued from the Brink, to show that even when people saw situations as hopeless, there were cases where people had made a difference.