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36Network She I Autumn/Winter 2012The phrase bitten by the love bug certainly took on a new depth of meaning to me after Karen Lambert told me about how she met her husband.Forget hearts and roses as a backdrop and think snakes and spiders because these are the unlikely cupids that brought Karen and her new husband Jeff together.Karen is a lead herpetology keeper at Chester Zoo and Jeff is her equivalent at London Zoo. They met when he came as an intern to Chester for a year and was assigned to work with Karen. Their shared interest has played its part even when it comes to buying each other gifts."He'll say I'd like such and such a beetle so I say that's ok and buy him that for a present." said Karen who'll then source it through a specialist group.And it wasn't the usual beach holiday for the newly weds following their marriage in July. They flew to Tahiti but not for a romantic beach holiday but to help a conservationist to build reserves for a rare snail. In fact Karen and her husband are both two of the very few people in the world working to save the Partula snail.As a herpetology keeper Karen is responsible for everything from Komodo dragons to snakes and all manner of other creepy crawlies while at the same time researching and helping protect the Partula snail which is fast becoming extinct. Karen has hundreds of them in clinical looking glass boxes in a specially air conditioned room with an 80 per cent humidity as she studies them in a bid to get them breeding."Our main goal is to get them to breed in captivity and then put them back into the wild." said Karen which is what she will be helping them to do on her honeymoon."Jeff and I are discussing the wedding but our hot topic of conversation at the moment is the snails because that's where we are going next." said Karen.Originally from the Society Islands in French Polynesia there were 72 species but over 50 of those species are now extinct."There are about 19 species in captivity from the Society Islands but only about 11 exist in the wild," explained Karen. Five of those species they now have at Chester Zoo. The precious cargo are kept in a specially air controlled room with the right temperature and humidity.BeetlemaniaCreepy crawlies are an unlikely setting for love but Andrea Williams finds out how these led to romance for Karen Lambert and a mission to save an endangered species

www.networkshe.com37them and put them outside because I don't believe in killing them. I'm OK with tarantulas because they're big and I can see where they are," said Karen.Karen recalls one of her proudest moments was handling a venomous snake.As part of their training zoo keepers have to practice certain procedures to learn how to manage the animals safely. Karen's task was to put a rattlesnake into a tube."I'd only dealt with my snakes at home, and the non-venomous snakes at the zoo, so I was a bit nervous. I hadn't been prepared for how much noise it would make. It made such a racket while I was trying to put it into the tube, in some ways I was oddly calm trying to focus on what I was doing but I could feel the adrenalin pumping but I was so proud when I had done it," recalled Karen.She also deals with crocodiles and hopes that the zoo will look into a breeding project for them in the near future.She does not flinch at dealing with such notoriously dangerous animals. "Crocodiles can have a real temper," said Karen, "but they are also predictable and you can start to understand how they will react to certain situations. You just have to learn to work quickly and away from them."Karen's job has taken her all over the world to some of the most exotic locations from releasing tadpoles in Puerto Rico to her snail honeymoon in Tahiti. But for Karen the location does not matter for her there is just one aim which she sums up as:"I see my role in trying to get the parameters right to keep species, alive, thriving and breeding to preserve them in the wild."adapted to their environment that their genetic make-up hasn't changed, and they have survived this way right up until now." You quickly realise that Karen is as full of surprises as the animals she studies. Part of her job involves working with invertebrates such as spiders which she has to study in their hundreds at close quarters. a tall order when she reveals she used to suffer from arachnophobia."I've always been terrified of spiders. When I started at the zoo I couldn't even touch their skin once they had shed it," explained Karen.To overcome her phobia she devised a gentle process of getting used to the spiders by peeking at them in their tank while keeping her distance and feeding them in a controlled environment."Over time I have got better but I don't think I'll ever be completely cured. I can now catch "They are kept separate from other species in very sterile bio-secure conditions because when we release them back into the wild we don't want them to carry any disease," said Karen. She outlined why they are fast becoming extinct, "They are particularly fascinating because they are a very slow growing species and are one of only a couple of species who give birth to live young, producing one or two every few months, whereas their predators release 20-40 eggs at one time."The programme to help the Partula has been running for 26 years and you cannot help but be impressed by Karen's infectious enthusiasm which is understandable when you look at the bigger picture and appreciate she is helping to save the species and get them back in the wild.Karen is one of the few people who can really tell you exactly how to get a snail out of its shell, "Being with them every day you can't help but get attached. They all have their own little characteristics. If I notice they have been in their shell I give them a little spray. It wakes them up and they start chasing each other around," said Karen.Her passion for animals started when she was 13 and her brother had a pet snake. "He was frightened of it so I started to look after it and I just got interested from there." said Karen.She had originally wanted to be an Egyptologist but that changed when she did voluntary work experience at her local museum aquarium"I saw the professional side and there were so many different species, I was hooked and from then on I changed my goal." She went on to get her degree during which time she worked as an intern at Chester and the rest is history.Her enthusiasm for reptiles spills through when she talks about them, "They are such amazing creatures. They're primeval and some haven't changed since dinosaur times.We exhibit Tuatara here at Chester Zoo - a species, which looks like a lizard, and dates back to Jurassic times. That means they have outlived dinosaurs. They are so perfectly Snails, including the Partula, are hermaphrodite which means that they are both sexes and can self fertilise.Karen said it is important because it can help save species if a mate cannot be found in the wild. "Snails would rather find a mate but if one can't be found than they can self fertilise. There are instances of self fertilisation when snails have got down to 1 or 2 of that species".The Partula snail lives in rocky places where it can be difficult for a human to get around so for a slow moving snail where there are not, many species it must be nearly impossible at times to find a mate so in these instances it is vital they can self fertilise."Did youknow?Photography by Dave McNabb © DMC Photographic 2012Karen & Jeff on their wedding day. Left; Snail hunting on their honeymoon