Adopt-A-Pond would like to wish Bob Johnson all the best in his retirement from the Toronto Zoo.

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Bob Johnson has been a lifelong field naturalist who has an encyclopedic knowledge and understanding of wildlife fauna and flora. He has been a member of many species recovery teams and is often consulted for his expertise by government agencies, non-government agencies and universities. Working closely with Parks Canada, Bob Johnson has pioneered the use of social media for outreach programs to improve interaction and communication between scientists, field workers and citizen scientists. In addition, he has stimulated public interest and participation in projects within the Adopt-a-Pond program.

Bob Johnson, the long standing Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Toronto Zoo, and creator of Adopt-A-Pond, has been an instrumental part of how we see and conserve amphibians and reptiles.

 How it all began:

 In 1989, Toronto Zoo’s Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Bob Johnson, attended the very first World Congress of Herpetology, a global gathering to discuss amphibians and reptiles. Through discussions with colleagues at the meeting, it became clear that frogs, toads and salamanders – animals that rely on wetland habitat for most or part of their life – were declining worldwide. Bob’s experiences at the Toronto Zoo further highlighted the loss of aquatic habitats as the primary cause for these amphibian declines. Many Zoo visitors and local community members expressed their concern over the loss of frogs at their cottage, or the disappearance of toads that once shared their gardens. Eager to take action, a group of zoo staff – librarians, keepers, supervisors, office assistants, curators, and summer interns – formed an Amphibian Interest Group to promote water and wetland conservation throughout the Zoo.

In 1991, Adopt-A-Pond was chosen as the name for Toronto Zoo’s Wetland Conservation Programme. The programme’s purpose was to engage families in identifying important wetland habitats and the creatures that these habitats support. Its first educational poster “Amphibians are Disappearing – If you love to hear frogs sing, no-one wants a silent spring” was sent to over 1 million school children. With its early success in community wetland conservation, Adopt-A-Pond was awarded the American Zoo Association’s North American Conservation Award in 1997. The early focus on amphibians shaped the FrogWatch programme, where families could report their frog sightings to the Zoo and develop a new appreciation for the wild things that lived in their local wetland.

Fast forward to the present day; Adopt-A-Pond has blossomed into a very large programme with an expanded group of citizen science initiatives. These citizen science initiatives are a valuable tool for people looking to connect with their local environment. Ontario Turtle Tally is a wildly popular programme that encourages nature lovers from all walks of life to report observations of turtles they see in the wild to an online registry at the Zoo. This data, in turn, helps to implement habitat conservation projects and inspires participants to become advocates for turtles all across the province.

This year is a very special year for Bob and the Blanding’s Turtle in Ontario. This year Bob was delighted to oversee the successful release of the first group of captive-raised Blanding’s Turtles back into the wild! This project has been an enormous undertaking involving over 10 years of research and is one of Adopt-A-Pond’s greatest accomplishments. We are honoured to have had Bob see it through in its entirety.

Bob’s Adopt-A-Pond is a 23 year old award winning conservation program that is continuing to make great strides in amphibian and reptile conservation. These accomplishments would not be possible without the generous support from many foundations and industry leaders, the federal government’s Habitat Stewardship Program, the Ontario Government’s Stewardship Fund for Species at Risk, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Rouge Park, Toronto Field Naturalists, and most recently Earth Rangers.

In his honour:

We are excited to announce that the Toronto Zoo Board has granted Curator Emeritus status to Bob Johnson in recognition of his extensive expertise, exceptional leadership, dedication and 41 years of service to the Toronto Zoo.

 The “emeritus” designation is an honorary role among zoological institutions and other organizations such as museums, art galleries and universities. This status is assigned to leaders with a long and successful history with their organizations.

 “Mr. Johnson is highly regarded as a visionary leader in conservation by zoo professionals in the field, government agencies and universities, said Mr. Joe Torzsok, Chair, Toronto Zoo Board of Management.  “He has pioneered and developed many novel and successful programs in the field of conservation and stewardship. Under the umbrella of Adopt-A-Pond there are six distinct initiatives: Ontario Turtle Tally, Frogwatch Ontario, Wetland Guardians, Urban Turtle Initiative, Healthy Waters – Healthy Wildlife, and Turtle Island Conservation,” said Mr. John Tracogna, Toronto Zoo’s Chief Executive Officer. These programs have all contributed to national recognition for the Toronto Zoo as a renowned Canadian leader in wetland conservation. In addition, Bob Johnson’s work with the Massasauga Rattlesnake and the Puerto Rican crested toad programs have been highly successful in creating awareness and stimulating protection for these species.

“Mr. Johnson has pioneered many stewardship programs working with communities and indigenous persons to foster the protection of numerous endangered or threatened species and support for needed habitat protection,” said Dr. William Rapley, Executive Director Conservation, Education & Wildlife,  “Working with many partners and collaborators, numerous programs have been developed in Ontario that are highly successful thanks to his work.

At a time when amphibian and reptile conservation was not talked about by most conservationists, Bob’s passion and dedication put these unique and ecologically valuable creatures in the conservation spotlight!  Bob is truly a leader; his years of experience, dedication and passion will be greatly missed by all of us on the Adopt-A-Pond team!