Report of the Secretary General

World Congress of Herpetology

Prague, Czech Republic

August 8,1997

The period of January, 1994 through July,1997, has involved extensive work for the World Congress of Herpetology (WCH) in a number of arenas from the Secretary General (SG). These efforts are summanzed in a chronological/categorical order, and conclude with an indication of some of the issues and areas that need serious attention in order that WCH have the future that it needs and merits.

The first order of business was to respond to the mandates of World Congress of Herpetology 2. This included the establishment of various committees, the dispensation of various resolutions, the establishment of means of communication with the Treasurer, the Executive Committee (EC), the International Herpetological Committee (IHC), the affiliated organizations, and especially the selection of venue for WCH3, and establishment of communication with the chair of its local committee.

Over the term, the SG established, with the advice of the Executive Committee, committees to deal with 1) review of our Constitution, as mandated at WCH2 (chaired by Linda Trueb); 2) a statement of ethics, also as mandated at WCH2 (chaired by Michael Tyler); 2) a Finance committee, charged with seeking a plan for short- and long-range financial stability for WCH and its work; 4) a committee to advise the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature on herpetological matters (mandated at WCH1 and WCH2; chaired by Masatoshi Matsui), and the Scientific Program Committee for WCH3.

With regard to the Resolutions passed at Adelaide, the SG transmitted some to the obvious targets for them. However, seveial authors of resolutions did not provide indication of the targets they had in mind, and did not respond to requests for such information. I recommend that any resolutions passed by WCH at its Business Meeting include a clear statement of the proposed recipients of the resolutions, with addresses.

Communication was established using several means. Over the three years since WCH2, the SG prepared and issued four Newsletters that included information about the work of WCH and the planning of the Prague meeting. These were mailed to all members of the Executive and International Herpetological Committees, and the last one to heads of all affiliated organizations as well (see below). The SG actively solicited the participation of IHC members, and those of affiliated organizations. E-mail and faxing proved most useful for communication with the Executive Committee, the Treasurer, and the Local Committee Chair, as well as many members of the WCH constituency The SG estimates that one to two hours per working day were spent on e-mail, etc. , for WCH.

Extensive, productive, and pleasant interactions with the Treasurer took place frequently, largely via e-mail. Matters of discussion included the final reports on WCH2, the establishment of WCH3, general matters of finance for WCH, establishment of the Travel Subsidies Committee and its deliberations, and projections regarding funding for WCH activities. To that end, the SG established a Finance Committee, chaired by the Treasurer, and charged it to prepare a plan for short- and long-term achievement of better financial stability for WCH. The financial limitations under which WCH now proceeds are formidable, and the SG thanks Treasurer Roger Avery for his diligence and commitment.

Equally pleasant, extensive and productive interactions occurred with the Chair of the Local Committee for WCH3, Zbynik Roeek. Matters of organization, financing, and other aspects of planning of the Congress were discussed; the Executive Committee was apprised frequently of the on-going activities of the Local Committee. The SG much appreciates open discussion of all matters, and Dr. Roeek’s detailed planning, hard work and commitment to producing an outstanding Congress.

Early in its term, the Executive Committee was extensively involved in discussions of

venue for WCH3; this included expressing the need for more than one bid, the securing of bids from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (as presented at WCH2) and from Prague, Czech Republic; the formulation of detailed evaluation of the bids and questions to be presented to their local committee chairs; the approval of Prague as the next venue, occasioned by 1) the good situation that the Prague committee presented, and 2) the absence of a response to our questions from the Rio committee. The EC was involved in the recommendations of people for and their appointments to the various WCH committees. The EC discussed at some length the admission of new affiliated organizations and the criteria for their admission. The EC was kept apprised of all actions of the SG. “Approval” of the Scientific Program and other actions was part of the role of the EC. The SG extends her thanks to the EC members for their responsible attitudes, appropriate questions when necessary, and their support.

The International Herpetological Committee was informed of all WCH activities via the newsletters. That method of communication was used to seek volunteers for WCH committees, nominations, etc. I am sorry to say that response to these requests was limited; the SG much appreciates the work and concern of those IHC members who did respond. The IHC needs better involvement. The above suggests that the newsletters are not adequate means of communication. The SG has recommended to the Constitution Review Committee that a Chair of the IHC be specified in the Constitution; that will provide a focal person for discussion, communication, and organization. Also, candidates for election to IHC should provide a statement of their willingness and commitment to serve WCH.

The Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force and the International Society for the Study of Amphibians became affiliated organizations. Certain other societies indicated interest in affiliation, but have not yet provided the information sought about their organization and activities. The EC endorsed the idea presented by the SG that we should actively seek additional affiliated organizations, and that the criteria for affiliation should include a) focus on reptiles and amphibians relatively broadly, b) emphasis on knowledge of their biology, whether at the scientific or the laypersons’ levels, and c) the ABSENCE of sponsorship of the selling of amphibians and reptiles and any activities that might endanger species, populations, or individual animals. It is not yet resolved whether regional societies are appropriate affiliated organizations–some EC members favor that set, others believe that they should not be included. This will be discussed in Prague.

The SG interacted extensively with all committee chairs regarding policies, reports, deadlines, etc.

The SG was much concerned with the solicitation of bids for the venue of WCH4. She wrote more than 50 letters of inquiry and invitation to individual herpetologists. She prepared a letter of response to inquiries from convention organizers representing various cities and countries (WCH is now a recognized entity for various convention alliances) that indicated the scientific and social needs for a good Congress, especially emphasizing the need for a responsible Local Committee of scientists, and naming WCH members in the countries represented by the convention inquirers. Many inquines were received. Some nine indications of interest (from over 100 letters of inquiry or responses to convention organizers) were received; this resulted in three excellent bids. The SG worked extensively with the bid preparers to provide any information that they requested, and advice about bid preparation. The bids will be circulated, then presented and discussed at the WCH Business Meeting, and an advisory vote taken at that time.

The SG was committed to producing a large and diverse slate of candidates for election to the WCH Executive Committee and the International Herpetological Committee. The newsletters, coupled with e-mail and fax follow-up to EC members and numerous nominators, seconders, and inquirers, produced a fine slate.

Solicitation of sponsors and of other sources of financial support was also an activity of the SG. The newsletters were used for those purposes, and many letters to foundations, agencies, and affiliated organizations were wntten. Regrettably, response was limited; we need to find better and more consistent means of finding sponsors and securing support. The SG thanks all who responded with donations of funds, those who wrote grant proposals and other requests for support, and those who generally supported the efforts of WCH.

The International Union of Biological Sciences is not often mentioned in WCH activities, and its roles should become better known to the WCH constituency. WCH is a Scientific Member of IUBS; it is the Section on Herpetology. One of the roles of IUBS is to provide communication among scientists internationally; to that end, it publishes the journal Biology International and vanous special numbers. It also sponsors several programs that facilitate scientific activity, among them the Decade of the Tropics, programs in Reproductive Biology in Aquaculture, Bionomenclature, and Systematics. It is a co-sponsor of the Diversitas program that considers issues in biodiversity, and that cunently is becoming a focus of activity under the Convention on Biodiversity. Our status as a Scientific Member makes us eligible for a loan as start-up funds for organizing our congresses; $5000 was received, for which the Local Committee and the SG are much appreciative. It is also the responsibility of Scientific Members to take part in IUBS activities; to that end the SG has represented WCH at the IUBS General Assembly, been involved in nomination of its officers, and represented the interests of herpetology by involving the DAPTF in the Diversitas program. The WCH SG is also the IUBS SG, so this interaction has been easy and direct; the cunent SG hopes that her successor will cany on a high level of involvement with IUBS.

The SG has maintained records of all interactions that she has had. Files of letters, print-outs of all e-mail correspondence, records of policy discussions, and all other materials accumulated by the SG will be passed to her successor, in the interest of information and of building an historical record of the development and activity of WCH. The SG answered a great diversity of queries during her term — many are alluded to above; others ranged from “What is WCH?”, to details of WCH3 — its planning, support, program, even questions about hotel reservations.

Current activities of the SG include finding candidates for Secretary General and Treasurer from the EC membership, and appointment of a Recorder, ballot counters (an Election Committee), and a Resolutions Committee.

Issues of concern are two of primary importance — 1) the financial status of WCH, and 2) the representation by WCH of herpetology in international and broadly scientific contexts. The only funding that WCH has at its disposal comes from any profit from its Congresses that is passed on to the Treasurer. These funds in our short history have ranged from $0 to $5000 (appx.). Consequently, start-up funds for subsequent Congresses are limited and cannot be estimated when bids are being planned; support for the activities of the SG and the Treasurer is either out-of pocket or from their academic departments; funds for travel subsidies are extremely limited, and not predictable; support for international hespetological activities is non-existent. Interest in funding conservation activities, providing seed funding for collaborative research, and similar activities has been expressed, but is beyond the capability of WCH at the present time. Means of securing funding for the interim activities of WCH, as well as the establishment of its Congresses, must be sought if WCH is to fulfill the role that it should play as a scientific information link. Possible sources of funding include: affordable dues from affiliated organizations and from members (ISVM, for example, charges its members $5 or equivalent per year), a more energetic program or corporate or other sponsorship, etc. These and other possibilities must be discussed and explored immediately.

WCH must decide whether its role representing herpetology internationally should be restricted to organizing a significant Congress every 3-5 years, or whether it should be a proactive body that promotes: 1) understanding of taxon-based biology, 2) research on amphibians and reptiles, 3) conservation of amphibians and reptiles, 4) communication among herpetologists internationally, 5) species databases, etc., 6) other activities. If the latter proactive and on-going stance is to be implemented, WCH needs a more specific infrastructure, including both personnel and funding.

The SG closes this report by thanking all of you for the opportunity to serve the field of herpetology, to promote understanding of the biology of amphibians and reptiles, and to work with colleagues throughout the world for the last three years and eight months on this endeavor that is important to us all.

Respectfully submitted,

Marvalee H. Wake
Secretary General



Total receipts from the Second World Congress and funds held by the previous Treasurer and Secretary-General amounted to L8089. Donations (which have been added to the travel subsidy fund) during the period between the 2nd and 3rd Congresses have totalled L406, and bank interest to 30th June 1997 has contributed L373 .

An interest-free loan of L2500 was made to the 3rd Congress. This has been repayed, but retained in Prague to contribute to subsidy for selected participants (see below). Bank charges have amounted to L32.

Requests for travel subsidy were overwhelming; more than 100 people applied for help, and the total requested was more than 20 times the sum available. Responses from members of the Exectutive Committee (who constituted a subsidy committee for this Congress) were collated by me. The decision was taken to use most of the funds available to pay registration fees, since it was felt that this would maximise the number of participants who benefitted from WCH subsidy. It was also decided (although this was not unanimous) that funding would be targeted at relatively established herpetologists who would for the most part be presenting oral contributions at the Congress. I accordingly offered to pay the registration fees of 28 potential participants from 11 countries. All offers except two have been taken up; I have offered subsidy to a replacement for one of these.

In addition, travel bursaries (two of L600 and one of L300) were offered to three potential participants from South America.

It is not possible to provide accounts at this time, because we do not yet know exactly how many people will actually claim the subsidy that they have been offered, nor do we know what the exchange rate for the Czech crown will be at the time of the Congress. It is likely that at least L2000 will be available to my successor. Detailed, audited accounts will of course be presented in due course.

Roger Avery


Comments are closed.