London Tails of Amphibian Discovery (T.O.A.D) project manager, Emily Millhouse, has a chat with Froglife’s newest trustee, Xavier Mahele, to hear more about his passion for amphibians and reptiles.
Q: Who is Xavier Mahele?
I am a 19 year old ecology student and I really like frogs!
Q: What is it about amphibians and reptiles that you like?
I love how enigmatic amphibians and reptiles can be. Turning over a log or looking into a pond or scanning sand dunes and healthland, you never know what you’re going to find. And I think putting on a head torch on a cool, moonlit night after heavy rain to look for amphibians hunting worms is one of the most exciting nature experiences there is!
Q: What is your favourite amphibian, and why?
I am an avid fan of globose frogs. I’m very fond of the little round guys. So my top ones have to be the shovel nose frogs ,Hemisus, from Africa, the Nasikabatrachus purple frogs from India or the South American frogs Synapturanus and Elachistocleis! But my absolute favourite has to be the mexican burrowing toad, Rhinophrynus dorsalis! Their purple and orange colours are so ornate and males calling in their breeding ponds is hilarious, the way their entire bodies inflate and move when they sing! They are fossorial and spend a lot of their lives underground eating termites and chilling out which is a lifestyle I try to emulate. They are also the most evolutionarily distinct amphibian species, diverging 190 million years ago and the last surviving member of their family Rhinophrynidae!
Q: Why did you decide to get involved with Froglife?
I decided to get involved with Froglife three years ago, for my work experience in year 11, after reading about Froglife on the internet and using Froglife’s ‘Just add water’ guide to build my first pond. I had a great time helping out the London Tails of Amphibian Discovery (T.O.A.D) team with events, school visits and many hours of newt catching! I’ve been coming back ever since to help with all things herpetology!
Q: What’s your earliest childhood memory relating to nature?
I was very into prehistoric life when I was small and I often remember exploring the natural history museum, admiring the specimens, or looking for them on the beaches on the south coast. I also watched a lot of wildlife programmes when I was little. I was a big fan of Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60!
Q: Did you have a favourite green space to see amphibians that you visited whilst growing up?
I spent many hours watching the newts and toads at my grandparents pond growing up. It was magical to see the shimmering shoals of toad tadpoles in the golden sunlight as the turquoise of a smooth newt floated past. It was exciting watching the zig-zagging hawker dragonflies and watching the little water slaters munch away at the detritus. And thanks to a heron a few years ago, I now know there are common frogs in that pond as well!
Q: As a young conservationist, where would you like to see the UK conservation sector be in 30 years time?
In 30 years time, I hope we’ve been able to restore and reconnect our degraded habitats, stem our further encroachment and allow everyone to have the opportunity to access nature rich areas.
Q: What advice would you give to another young person who wanted to get into UK conservation?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, everyone is very nice and who knows what doors it can open up for you.
Q: What one thing would you encourage people to do at home to help amphibians and/or reptiles?
If you have a garden or community greenspace you’re involved in, think about putting a pond in, they can bring so much joy from wriggling tadpoles to the splash of frogs diving in. Once established and planted up, they look incredible and provide essential habitat for amphibians to breed in and have some respite from the heat in summer. If you’re feeling inspired after that, you can always add long grass areas and log piles to complement it and provide additional spaces for amphibians to feed and hide. In our increasingly fragmented landscape, we all must do our part to restore some habitats. Froglife has a great booklet called ‘Just add water’ which you can get in pdf form online which is a really great resource.