The 9th World Congress of Herpetology was held in Dunedin, New Zealand from 5-10 January 2020. HSS Co-founder, Sankar was fortunate enough to attend the conference and present on “A metabarcoding study of diet and parasites in reticulated pythons in Singapore”.
It might seem strange to host a herpetology conference in New Zealand, a country that famously has no snakes. But New Zealand’s herp diversity is nothing to scoff at! It has over 110 species of geckos and skinks, four species of frogs, and the only species of tuatara in the world!
In 2019, for my Final Year Thesis, I conducted a metabarcoding study of diet and gut parasites in reticulated pythons in Singapore. After graduating, I submitted the abstract to the World Congress of Herpetology, hoping that perhaps I would get a chance to share my work on a global stage. I was thrilled when my abstract was accepted for poster presentation. Over the next few months, with lots of help from Meka, I put together a new poster, just for the WCH9!
Fast forward to the start of 2020, I was getting ready to leave for Dunedin. It was going to be a 10-hour flight to Christchurch, followed by a 1-hour flight to Dunedin itself. At the boarding gate in Changi Airport, I bumped into Prof Walter Hödl. Prof Hödl was the Secretary General of the World Congress of Herpetology from 2004-2008. 10 hours later, I managed to get a photo with him in front of our plane to Dunedin.
After settling in, getting my conference nametag and registering properly, I was ready for my first ever WCH! It was so inspiring to see the work of so many scientists trying to improve our understanding of these amazing creatures. It was also a little intimidating to be presenting my work to all these amazing and accomplished people.
I also made a pilgrimage to the famous tuatara mural in Bath Street!
To say the least, the next few days were just amazing. I got to meet friends and mentors I hadn’t met in years! At the same time, I met delegates doing spectacular work all over the world.
Over the next few days, I spent as much time as I could attending lectures and talks that I thought were interesting. At several points, I found myself wishing I could replicate myself and be in two talks at once. Alas, that was not possible.
In addition to the numerous talks, there were dozens of posters being presented as well! I spent several lunch hours walking through the poster area and reading about the work being done around the world. And of course, I got to present my own work!
We even got the chance to see a Tuatara up close! This was a truly surreal experience for me.
Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) are reptiles endemic to New Zealand. While they resemble lizards, they are part of a more ancient lineage, and belong in an order of their own (Rhynchocephalia). It was incredible to see a real-life tuatara right in front of me!
After all was said and done, there was even a conference dinner! Dunedin Town Hall was packed with herpetologists! I don’t normally do well in crowds, but I was really excited to be in this one. There was great music, amazing food, and overall just an amazing time!
The conference was brought to a close by Prof. Ana Carnaval, who delivered her keynote about herps in the Atlantic Forest and their responses to environmental shifts. She ended by talking about Bertha Lutz: A Brazilian herpetologist, women’s suffrage advocate and politician. She encouraged delegates to be like Bertha, and to always stand up for what was right. It was a fitting end to an amazing congress.
At the very end of the conference, they announced that the 10th World Congress of Herpetology would be held in Kuching, Malaysia in 2024! I was positively ecstatic at this announcement. Sarawak is close to home and is easily accessible to so much of Southeast Asia. On top of that, it is a veritable biodiversity hotspot. Several members of the HSS have gone herping in Sarawak multiple times with great success. We’re very excited for 2024.
Following that, they presented awards for the best talks and poster presentations in each category. I was pleasantly surprised and honoured to be awarded the Best Poster in the Snakes category!
After that, there was no better way to celebrate than to get dinner with friends, new and old!
Thank you to the University of Otago and WCH9 conference organisers, who worked tirelessly to ensure that everything went smoothly. This was a magnificent experience and I cannot wait for 2024!