Who's who at the zoo: meet conservationist Lea Randall

Jul 16, 2014

The Calgary Zoo is part of the conservation of several important species, but what does that actually involve? Lea Randall, Conservation Biology Population Ecologist gives us a peek at northern leopard frog conservation in our “Who’s who at the zoo” blog series.

Q: What training and career lead to your work at the Calgary Zoo?

“I completed my Undergrad degree in Biology at the University of Victoria, followed by my Master’s degree in Disturbance Ecology studying bats at the University of Calgary. I then worked for the Yukon Department of Environment, collecting data on animals like pine marten and wolverines, and studying the diversity of bats and other small mammals, as well as dragonflies in the north. My work often involved being dropped off in remote locations by helicopter, working late nights looking for bats, and dodging bears.”

Q: When did you start working for the Calgary Zoo?

“I started working at the Calgary Zoo in the spring of 2011, and the job required specific fieldwork experience. I was exactly what they were looking for, at the exactly the right time they were looking! It’s my dream job.”

Q: What are some of the tools you use to study northern leopard frogs?

“Each spring and summer, we travel as a team to 68 wetlands in Southern Alberta. During this time, we complete visual surveys, collect water for DNA testing and to check for disease, as well as put up song meters, which record the frogs’ breeding songs. We study roughly 85% of the leopard frogs’ remaining range in Alberta.  All of this data helps us study the population dynamics of northern leopard frogs, and will help us better understand threats to their recovery.”

Q: Give us an example of a day in the field.

“An average day would have us on the road by 7:30 a.m, followed by a lot of driving! Our study area covers 60,000km2, and we’re taking backroads- you can imagine in the spring it can be very muddy, and there can still be snow. When we arrive at the site, we monitor indicators of habitat quality such as pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen; we search for frogs and take note of the weather and physical conditions of the site.”

Q: Why are northern leopard frogs endangered? Why is it important to conserve them?

“Northern leopard frogs are a very large, iconic frog, and they represent 10% of Alberta’s amphibian diversity. They’ve become threatened due to drought, disease, loss of habitat and other factors. Frogs are an important part of the environment, signaling changes in water quality, as well as an important prey species for other animals.”

Q: What is the thing that you haven’t done yet that you most want to?

“I would love to travel more personally, and to also travel more for my research.”

Q: What do you love most about the zoo?

“I love working with so many people that are like-minded and share my passion for conservation. Everyone is collaborative, not competitive. It really is a family.”