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Gerrut Norval

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Losing it!

Losing it!

Growing up on a research station in South Africa provided me with unique childhood opportunities. It was there that my love for animals grew and I had my introduction to herpetology. It started when I caught a snake in my mother's kitchen at the age of ten. That little creature awoke in me an interest in reptiles. Now, many years later, that interest has developed into a passion, not only for snakes, but also for lizards.

When I arrived in Taiwan in September 1998 to teach English at a language school, I could never have guessed that it would provide me with so many new opportunities. I got to teach adults and experience a life that is very different from that in South Africa. But most of all, my interest in wildlife meant that I soon stood out among the other foreign teachers as "the animal teacher" and my students often took me to places to see things and meet people. Some of these people, many of whom are researchers, became my friends. I also very quickly realized that the average Taiwanese knows very little about wildlife. Now when my students come to class with stories, newspaper clippings and occasionally a specimen or two, it brings me great joy to see their interest in nature develop. As a teacher, and researcher, I strongly believe that it is vital that information about nature be shared with more people. There are so many special and interesting creatures around us and it is sad to see how few people care. This "don't care" attitude is mainly due to the fact that people simply don't know about these animals.

Even though coming to work in Taiwan was a dramatic change, I still felt I wanted to do something that would give purpose to my life. By mid-1999 I had decided that I wanted to get a qualification that would enable me to work with wildlife, and to achieve this I enrolled in 2000 for the Technikon South Africa NDP Nature Conservation correspondence course. To gain more field experience I got permission to accompany Chu Hsien-pin (Jack), a field-researcher of the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (TESRI) that I befriended, on two reptile species surveys in 2000 in Southern Taiwan. This was a wonderful experience! I not only had the opportunity to work with the highly venomous Russell's viper (Vipera russellii siamensis), a snake that I have been interested in for a long time, but Jack and I also became very good friends. The greatest opportunity, however, came one day in mid-2000 when a student gave me a lizard that he wanted me to identify. I had never seen anything like it before, and we soon realized that this species had never been recorded in Taiwan. About a month later we identified it as the brown anole (Anolis sagrei), and with the help of another friend, Dr. Mao Jean-jay, some specimens were sent to Germany for comparison with specimens from other parts of the world. Since I live near the locality where the lizards were collected, it was decided that it would be good if I did the data collection on this species in my leisure time and write the paper to state that the brown anole is an established exotic lizard in Taiwan.

I could not have asked for a better study subject and since I started working with this animal, my interest in these Cuban lizards has grown into a passion. At present I am working full-time as a teacher and in my leisure time I am conducting self-funded research on this species.


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