About Matt Ellerbeck - The Salamander Man
Matt with a Barred Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium).
Aptly described by the Frontenac News as the champion of creatures great yet small, and hailed as a legend by the Chairman of the Cambridge & Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group, Matt Ellerbeck is someone who has always loved salamanders. He first observed these amphibians as a child and was instantly fascinated and enthralled with them. Matt recalls that the first salamanders he ever observed were Blue-Spotted Salamanders and Eastern Newts. The fact that these childhood memories of salamanders are so vivid years later, is a testament of his love for these animals.
Over the years he has observed hundreds of salamanders in their natural habitats. This passion eventually led to Matt becoming a full-time Salamander Advocate and Conservationist. The word conservation is often used to describe a movement that aims to conserve natural resources and species expressly for their continued sustainable use by humans. In this sense a conservationist views the environment as having instrumental value that can be of help to people. Matt, however, aims to protect and preserve salamanders for their intrinsic value. He believes that salamanders have inherent worth, regardless of any instrumental utility to human needs.
The Salamander Man educating at a naturalist meeting held at Queen's University.
Matt's conservation endeavors have earned him several accolades. British author Claire McClennan proclaimed that ''You (Matt) were obviously put on this earth to help salamanders!'' She also gave Matt the title Salamander Man.
In 2013 Matt's salamander advocacy efforts earned him the Cataraqui Conservation Foundation's Education Award. This is an award presented annually to an individual or group that has made outstanding contributions to the understanding and preservation of all life in the Cataraqui region and has actively promoted the protection of the natural environment. The same year he was invited to become an Associate Partner of the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), which is the world’s largest partnership for amphibian conservation. The ASA also featured Matt as an Amphibian Hero during one of their Partner Showcases. Additionally, the Amphibian Ark featured Matt as one of their Amphibian Ambassadors. The AArk is a joint effort of three principal partners, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and the Amphibian Survival Alliance.
In 2014 Matt's Save The Salamanders became a partner of the Year of the Salamander Campaign. The campaign was put together and launched by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC).
In 2016 Matt became partner of the Foundation for the Conservation of Salamanders. The same year he became a partner of the Amphibian Foundation.
The Salamander Man educating a crowd of over 200 people at the Cat Creek Conservation Area.
To help bring his message of salamander conservation to the public, Matt has given hundreds of educational talks and presentations. These include presentations for kids clubs, special interest groups, and at many schools. Some highlights include presentations for the Society of Conservation Biology, the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences. Matt has also given presentations for students at King's Town Private School, Queen's University, St. Lawrence College and Trent University. He has educated students at every academic level, giving presentations or lectures to pre-schools, elementary schools, high schools, and colleges/universities.
The Salamander Man during one of his educational Salamander Saturdays Displays.
During these educational lectures, Matt highlights the threats that salamanders face and informs individuals about how they can help aid in the recovery of these animals. Land stewardship/habitat management activities are strongly promoted as one way to contribute to salamander conservation. Landowners are also informed about the useful roles that salamanders play in eco-systems, acting as natural pest controllers as they prey heavily on various arthropods and invertebrates. It is Matt's hope that once people learn about the benefits that salamanders provide they will be more inclined to protect them.
Salamander presentation for a Field Naturalist meeting.
To further help get his messages out, Matt has written several articles on salamanders which have appeared in numerous conservation publications, magazines, and newspapers. These include articles for the Amphibian Specialist Group, the Amphibian Ark, the Toronto Zoo's Adopt-A-Pond Programme, the Sierra Club, and various newspapers and field naturalist publications. British Author Claire McClennan wrote about Matt's efforts to contribute to salamander conservation in her book Another Chance Animal Rescues - Book 2 (2012). Information about Matt's Save The Salamanders website was also included in the acknowledgement section of the book Spring Salamanders of Central Texas (2014 World Freedom Products, LLC). Matt's photograph of a rare leucistic Eastern Red-backed Salamander, and information on his website were both featured in the Amphibian Survey and Monitoring Handbook (Pelagic Publishing, 2015). The book “Animal Obituaries” (Jasper Burns, 2016), a collection of fact-based tributes to a variety of animals, included information about Matt's Save The Salamanders website and project in the book's section on salamanders. Bel-Rea Vet Tech College, one of the largest Vet Tech Schools in the United States, voted Matt's Save The Salamanders website as one of their Top 25 Reptile/Amphibian Blogs of 2016. Their Media Adviser proclaimed ''(Matt) your blog and research have been an inspirational source for many of our students. In particular, I enjoy how you make salamanders important to even those who don't understand amphibians. Your post about why salamanders matter was especially impactful to me.''
Educating a class of nearly 100 students at St. Lawrence College.
Matt also often appears in the media to help get his messages out to the masses. He has appeared on TV, Radio Shows, and in many newspapers and publications across North America. These include high profile shows such as Talking Animals, which airs in Tampa, Florida. The guests featured on the show tend to be prominent figures in the animal world, or notable celebrities in other fields who have ties to animal welfare. Past guests have included Jane Goodall, Chrissie Hynde, Paul Watson, Janeane Garofalo, Moby, Margaret Cho and many others. He has also appeared on Animals Today radio which airs across 17 States, and on CiTR 101 FM which provides listening to a base of over 2 million. He has also been featured on radio and in publications in various regions of Europe.
Matt with a Yellow-Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).
To further protect salamanders, in the summer of 2012 Matt created a salamander sanctuary on private lands after encouraging the land owners to preserve a certain area on their property and leave it in a natural state. The site is located at the back of a camp ground in Lennox and Addington County in Ontario. The habitat is home to Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), Blue-Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale), Yellow-Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma Maculatum), Four-Toed Salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum), and Eastern Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens).
The salamander sanctuary Matt created.
Alongside his education and awareness activities, Matt is an avid salamander observer. During the spring, summer, and autumn months he spends much time out in the field gathering observational records of salamanders. These are submitted to the Global Amphibian BioBlitz, which is presented by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Amphibian Ark, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission, the Amphibian Specialist Group and the Amphibian Survival Alliance. Such records are used to help gain a better understanding of salamander populations, habitats, ranges, behaviours, morphological variations, and threats.
Matt collecting salamander observations at a vernal pool.
He has also spent much time observing salamanders in the Southern Appalachian Mountains region, visiting sites in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. This region is often hailed as the salamander capital of the world - in fact, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute proclaims that the Appalachian region is home to more salamander species than anywhere else in the world! An article about Matt's endeavors in the salamander capital can be viewed here.
In 2015 the Park's Canada Agency, which is run by the Minister of the Environment, granted Matt a research permit to conduct a study on salamanders in the Thousand Islands ecosystem. Similarly, the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority granted Matt with a pass to their lands so he could conduct a study on salamander inventory within their sites. He is also doing a study on Eastern Red-Backed Salamanders as a collaborator for the Salamander Population Adaptation Research Collaboration Network (SPARC-Net).
Matt while observing salamanders in the the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains Region.
Additionally, Matt has considerable experience and expertise in regards to salamanders and their care. He has cared for and observed numerous species. These include forms belonging to the genera Desmognathus, Plethodon, Ambystoma, Necturus, Cynops, Notophthalmus, Hypselotriton, Pleurodeles, Taricha, Salamandra, Hemidactylium, Eurycea, Pseudotriton, Amphiuma, Siren, Triturus, Neurergus, Tylototriton, and Paramesotriton. Matt is also in possession of a license to keep Specially Protected Amphibians in Captivity for the purpose of education, which has been granted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
A card that was made for Matt by some of his supporters.
This experience with salamander care has been an asset to his adoption and rescue efforts, taking in unwanted ''pet'' salamanders and giving them a permanent home with proper care. This is just another way in which Matt makes effort to help these amphibians. Never being one to shy away from helping salamanders in any situation, Matt has often helped report numerous salamander-related violations to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR).
Matt is committed to continuing his efforts to help salamanders. His love and concern for these animals is second to none!