Meet Our Team 11/08/2016

Ben

How long have you worked here? 5 and a half years.

What animals do you work with? Lower vertebrates and invertebrates (reptiles, amphibians and creepy crawlies).

Tell us an interesting facts about you: I find it very difficult to escape my career, annual holidays tend to have strong connections to my work and my house is filled with an assortment of reptiles and amphibians. Last year's holiday (2014) took me back to the islands of the Bocas del toro in Panama where we island hopped searching for frogs! I even got stuck in quicksand!

Why did you become a keeper? I guess it started when I was around 7 or 8 years old, my year revolved around my parents taking me to the local zoo at Easter, summer holidays and my birthday, which basically makes it all their fault! I quite quickly realised my strongest interests where in the reptiles and amphibians and this led me to begin keeping lizards at home, then I began volunteering at my local zoo. As my interests grew and my skills developed it became clear it was something I wanted to develop, I dreamt of being involved in conservation of species, travelling to tropical paradises but mostly just getting to spend even more time learning about the animals I loved.

What’s your favourite animal and why? Much too hard to pinpoint a single species, taxonomically I have a greater affinity to amphibians than anything else, amongst them I guess I’ve always been fascinated by the weirdos. Darwin's frogs who brood their young in a chamber inside their throat and then vomit up their babies, giant Japanese salamanders, an aquatic salamander that can reach 5 feet long, and strawberry poison frog a species where the tadpoles are deposited in bromeliads and other phytothelms and the mother remembers where she left them all and returns to each tadpole to feed them truly an amazing feet for a 15mm long frog.

What’s the best part of your job? Knowing that we are actually developing skills and techniques which are being used to help save threatened species, oh and getting to look at the smiling face of a contented giant tortoise everyday.

Ben Baker - Chester Zoo

What’s the worst part of your job? I guess the failure can be pretty rubbish, working long hours with sick or elderly animals only to lose them.

What’s been your most memorable moment in your career to date? I’m not sure really, I have experienced so much over the last 22 years. I guess people who I’ve worked with would say the time I got trapped between a giant tortoise and a wall when I was 19. It’s a story I tell people to make them laugh but possibly getting to see the harlequin mantella in the wilds of Madagascar - a species which is sat on the sharpest of knife edges.

What’s so special about Chester Zoo? It is a zoo and at the end of the day we are able to function because of visitors through the door. I believe they come and get to see amazing wildlife in amazing habitats, cared for by amazing keepers, vets, nutritionists and maintenance teams who are all assisted by amazing educators, researchers, conservationists and all the support teams that allow the zoo to operate. The visitors in turn allow the zoo to help fund incredible research projects, help teach thousands of school children, support projects all over the globe, even run projects of our own that conserve habitat and species across many countries as well as in the UK.

Have you visited any of our conservation projects abroad? If so which ones and what did you do? I’ve visited a couple of the zoo’s field projects. I visited Montserrat in the lesser Antilles in 2012, twice, supporting the mountain chicken reintroduction project, and visited Costa Rica in 2013 where I caught up with a project that’s monitoring the critically endangered green eyed frogs populations. 

And this year I travelled to Madagascar to visit two projects both working with the golden mantella and one project studying the last few populations of the harlequin mantella.

The Montserrat trips saw me helping to set up a holding station for zoo bred mountain chickens and then radio tracked them following their release whilst undertaking ecological surveys and environmental monitoring. In Costa Rica it was a chance to catch up with the team on the ground give them feedback, collect data loggers from the field and discuss what the project needed and how we could help them going forward, and in Madagascar I supported two PhD students collecting vital data to help improve the husbandry of captive frogs making them more suitable for release. I visited a facility where frogs are already being bred for reintroduction, there I was able to pass on some of the skills we have in mantilla care as well as information regarding nutrition and technical advances. In the field I assisted the field team in environmental monitoring, surveying and elastomer marking the frogs as part of a population study to evaluate the needs of mantellas in the wild and finally with the harlequin mantella I installed data loggers in the field to allow us to get a clear picture of the environment the species survives in.