This week Froglife meets Ute Nüsken, a German-born conservationist, who lives in Austria with her family. Ute works for AURING a local nature conservation society in the Morova-Dyie-floodplains (March-Thaya-Auen). She specialises in amphibians and aims to inspire as many people as possible about these species. Her favourite amphibians are newts (her local species being the Danube Crested Newt and Smooth Newt).
Why did you choose a career in conservation?
I’ve always been interested in nature and wildlife as my dad used to work in a zoo. After studying Agriculture I moved to the very vulnerable March-Thaya-Auen in Lower Austria and returned to my roots training as a nature-guide. I also took part in an amphibian monitoring project where I learned more about these animals.
What inspires you about working with AURING?
AURING is a local society in the north of the Morava-Dyje floodplains. As more and more lowland rivers are straightened and dammed, many wetland habitats dry out and are lost. In order to stop this development, at least on a local scale, AURING manages replacement habitats, such as the ‘vogel.schau.plätze Hohenau-Ringelsdorf’. Research and active conservation work form the basis of our public relations activities, and thereby also the preservation of this diverse region. Some very ambitious people committing themselves to this special area and I’m proud to be part of it.
Why did you specialise in amphibians?
I am fascinated by amphibians’ biology which enables them to live in so many different ecological niches all over the world. The changes during the metamorphosis are like a wonder, copying evolution in high speed. Amphibians are very good flag-ship species for floodplain-areas as they play such an important role in the ecosystem.
What do you find most inspires the children and adults that you work with about Amphibians?
Everybody knows a frog, hardly anyone knows a newt. And more or less nobody is familiar with the life of amphibians in general. Most people are surprised to find out that amphibians don’t live in the water all their lives. By dealing with these animals people come to know that they are endangered and everybody can do something for their protection. In times where exposure to nature is unfortunately no longer a matter of course, intimate encounters with animals have received a special significance. It offers particular chances for the very reason that these species do not come with the classic ‘cuddle factor’. First insights into the lives of these species arouse curiosity, personal experience and an emotional access which lead to wonder and understanding. Enthusiasm for the creatures of our immediate environment is key for a sustainable way of dealing with nature.
Can you tell us more about the photograph of a young person dressed up as a Danube Crested Newt?
‘One year as a newt’ is an game where young children are “transformed” into newts. They look for hibernation-places/partners/food/reproduction ground and experience metamorphosis by lying down with closed eyes and listening to the story. Our self-designed newt costumes are a great success. Once children have experienced being an amphibian they’re much more aware of their environmental interactions. The predecessor of this, ‘one year as a frog’, was named an Austrian UN-decade projects in 2008 by the UNESCO jury of the advisory committee ‘education for sustainable development’!
What has been your favourite memory while working with AURING?
Children’s laughing-eyes while touching a newt or toad! And comments like “now I will look for amphibians, too!” The general public of today is not familiar with most amphibians, but participants in the AURING projects are able to to establish a relationship with these animals through learning and an intimate, hands-on experience.
What you can do
- Find out more about amphibians and reptiles
- Take part in projects, attend events, volunteer
- Become a Froglife Friend