Thursday 19 September 2019

Ludwig Glauert. From Sheffield to the Extinct and Extant Fauna of Western Australia

Ludwig Glauert
(National Library of Australia)
Ludwig Glauert was, I discovered when in The Kimberley of Western Australia, a kingpin of biological science in Western Australia in the early years of the 20th Century. For many years he was at the Western Australian Museum and for many of those years he was the only resident scientist in the state investigating the geology, particularly the palaeontology, and zoology of Western Australia. As well as his investigations of the extinct marsupial megafauna he became the expert on the reptiles of the state.

When I first saw the name Glauert I assumed he was a museum-minded German or Swiss national who had made his way to an opening in Australia. I was wrong. Glauert was born in Sheffield. Not only was he born in Sheffield he was educated at the precursors of the University of Sheffield—Firth College and the Technical School. Ludwig Glauert, fellow Sheffield graduates, was one of us.

Ludwig Glauert’s father, Johann Ernst Luis Heinrich, had been born in Germany in 1846. There he married a German-born Englishwoman, Amanda Watkinson, in 1877. They then moved to Sheffield where Ludwig was born on 5 May 1879. In the censuses Ludwig’s father is described as a hardware merchant and exporter of steel cutlery. In 1881 he was the employer of four men and three women. It would seem that Glauert senior, who was known as Louis, was known in the city before 1979 since he was admitted as a Freemason in 1872. He became a British subject in 1893.

The very short biographies of Ludwig state that he was trained as a geologist and spent four years as a demonstrator at Firth College. If I read the history correctly geology was taught as an offshoot of mining, possibly wholly by evening classes. Glauert then worked for his father (in the 1901 census he is listed as a ‘merchant’s clerk’).

Geology at the proto-university of Sheffield was driven by somebody special: Henry Clifton Sorby FRS (1826-1908). Sorby was born in Sheffield, the grandson of a Master Cutler and descendant of the first Master Cutler. He was largely self-taught and was active in research in chemistry, metallurgy and biology as well as in geology. At the age of 31 he was elected to the Royal Society. Sorby never married and lived with his widowed mother. After her death he bought a yacht to spend the summer months on the estuaries of rivers in eastern England, making observations and collecting samples.

Ludwig was not the only scientist in the family. His brother, Hermann Glauert FRS (1892-1934) was a mathematician and head of the aerodynamics department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. His sister, Elsa, was a noted mathematician at Cambridge; she could sit the examinations but not, of course, being a she, receive a degree. 

Ludwig Glauert was active in the Sheffield Naturalists’ Club, serving on its Council along with academics from the university (Alfred Denny (1860-1947), for example, the first Professor of Biology), amateur naturalists and geologists. The goings-on of the Club were reported in the local press.

Ludwig married Winifred Aimee Beresford in Sheffield in 1907. He then took a job with the geological survey of the Mines Department of Western Australia as palaeontologist based at the museum in Perth. Then, in 1910, he was appointed to the staff of the museum, as the director's scientific assistant. In 1914 he was promoted to Keeper of Geology and Ethnology. 

For six years between 1909 and 1915 he worked in the field on the Pleistocene limestone of the Margaret River Caves, investigating the remains of several species of extinct marsupials and monotremes and of eastern Australian and Tasmanian mammals whose presence in Western Australia had never been suspected.

The story of the Margaret River Caves by Lindsay Hatcher includes the following description of how Glauert became involved as well as of the species and specimens found there:

Reports of the discovery of Mammoth Cave date back to as early as 1895. Mammoth Cave was located by Surveyor Mr Marmaduke Terry in September 1900, and explored by Tim Connelly and Ned Dawson, with Ned being the first to go through the cave and discover the “back door”. Tim conducted unofficial tours through the cave until 1904 when it was officially opened as a tourist cave. He also named the cave “The Dawn of Creation” perhaps due to the expanse of light reflecting off the stream in winter or maybe because of the abundance of fossils found in the cave. 
In 1904 Edgar Robinson; superintendent of the caves and cave guide Tim Connelly were constructing a walkway roughly below the largest solution pipe some 50 metres into the cave (i.e. near the top platform). One of these gentlemen unearthed some rather odd bones. In the same year Connelly notified his good friend Colonel Le Souef of the find. At the time Le Souef had considerable standing within the scientific community as he had been responsible for establishing the Perth Zoological gardens in the 1890’s.
Le Souef in turn notified Mr Bernard Woodward – Director of the W.A. Museum. At this time no one was actively working in Palaeontology and very little work was being done in Archaeology. Bernard Woodward contacted his cousin Mr H.P. Woodward who was working in the Mines Dept., with the fledgling Geological Survey of W.A. It turned out that H.P. Woodward had on staff a young graduate, just out of university and freshly arrived from England, (the Midlands he believed) by the name of Ludwig Glauert. 
Glauert was seconded from the Mines Dept. to the Museum with the brief of Palaeontological Research in the entire South-West. During the years of 1909-1915 two sites in Mammoth Cave; the “Le Souef” and the “Glauert” sites were excavated by the W.A. Museum. Many bones of extinct animals including megafauna bones were found; the fossil material was removed and is now stored in the W.A. Museum. 
Glauert first completed the “Le Souef” dig – at the base of the old solution pipe. It was from this site that a Giant Echidna (Zaglossus hacketti), a Short-faced Kangaroo (Simosthenurus occidentalis) and a Wombat (Vombatus hacketti) were found. The almost complete wombat skeleton was found in the solution pipe, suggesting it perished in the original pipe which now lies on top of the rockpile. Glauert then moved to the north wall to what is known as the “Glauert” dig.
The material in which the bones were embedded comprised two groups; the lower series consisted of reddish coarse sand containing fragments of wood and gastropod shells in addition to the bones, with occasional bands of black loamy soil of 25mm thickness. Layers of stalagmite (flowstone) often enclosed the bones, wood fragments and bearing casts of eucalyptus leaves were not uncommon. One of these layers was completely covering the sediments, thus protecting the animal remains. The upper layer was a sandy bed which was yellowish in colour; the bones it contained were much fresher in appearance compared with the lower sediments. 
Glauert believed that the bone bearing deposit was a remnant of a mass of bone breccia which at one time partly filled the large chamber. This remnant was protected by a coating of flowstone for many years until the protection was undermined by the stream flowing through the cave and much of the material with its priceless store of animal remains was washed away and lost to science. 
Excavations produced a sizeable fossil collection, some 10,000 specimens; his total excavation amounted to 30 cubic metres of soil. Unfortunately the stratigraphical relationship was poorly documented, probably due to inadequate resources and time constraints, making any assessment of relative ages of the material extremely hard. 
The assemblage contains 34 vertebrate species, most of which are small and typical of the south-west today. Several types of large extinct animals are represented i.e. Megafauna. These include the Giant Echidna (Zaglossus hacketti), Wombat (Vombatus hacketti), Wallaby (Wallabia kitcheneri), the giant extinct diprotodontid (Zygomaturus trilobus), extinct browsing kangaroos (Simosthenurus occidentalis and Simosthenurus brownei) and the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex). Other groups of animals represented are those which still occur in Eastern Australia or Tasmania: the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). The south-west corner seems to have changed very little even though the giant marsupial fauna has disappeared. 

Ludwig Glauert in the Western Australian Museum with remains of fossil marsupials from Mammoth Cave,
Margaret River
Photograph by EL Mitchell first published in the Western Mail 19 June 1914
National Library of Australia

News of his work at Margaret River reached Sheffield. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of Friday 8 April 1910 reported the findings under the headline, ‘Proves Useful in Australia, which reminded readers: ‘The matter is of interest in this district, apart from its scientific value, on account of the excellent work done in connection with it by Mr. Ludwig Glauert who will be remembered as a Sheffield student and as a demonstrator in geology at the University of Sheffield’.

Glauert’s interests extended far beyond paleontology. He studied aboriginal culture, publishing newspaper articles under the pen-name, ‘Jay Penne’ and studied the extant fauna of Western Australia as well as the extinct.

In October 1917 Glauert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for service in the latter stages of the First World War as a field company engineer in the 51st Infantry Battalion. The reinforcements for this Western Australian battalion sailed for Europe on the troopship HMAT Aeneas.  51st Battalion was part of the counter-attack at Villers Bretonneux on 24/25 April 1918 during which action the Battalion lost 389 men in two days.

After the war ended he lectured to servicemen and studied Australian material in the Natural History Museum in London.  On his return to Perth and the museum in 1920, he became keeper of the biological collections. In 1927 he was appointed Curator and then, in 1954, Director.

In his spare time he acquired an arts degree from the University of Western Australia in 1928. He collected and he wrote extensively on the fauna. Building up the museum and its collections was impeded in the inter-war years by lack of money. For many years Glauert was the only scientist; he had one technician and a taxidermist. He used his private income to buy books for the museum.

Glauert’s enthusiasm encouraged interest in the general public and especially the young. He made the museum a meeting place for the professional and amateur societies and clubs with members interested in some or all aspects of natural history—mirroring in many cases the organisations that had existed in Sheffield at the turn of the century. His articles, books, lectures and broadcasts evoked interest which, in turn, brought in specimens, often caught and presented to its owner by that scourge of Australian wildlife, the domestic cat.

He continued to work on reptiles and scorpions after his retirement.

Ludwig Glauert died on 1 February 1963, aged 83.

Monday 16 September 2019

Dr Edward Elkan: pioneering pathologist and his photograph of an Okapi

EDWARD ELKAN (1895-1983) is recognised as a pioneer of the pathology of amphibians and reptiles which began when in medical practice in London he was trying out the then newly developed human pregnancy test using the Clawed Frog, Xenopus laevis. Elkan was interested in animal life generally but also in photography. His photographs taken when he was working as a doctor amongst the Jewish settlers in Palestine in the 1920s have been exhibited and published as a book.

I found this photograph of an Okapi at London Zoo in the readers’ photographs section of the August 1939 issue of Animal and Zoo Magazine. He won ‘a guinea’ (i.e. £1, 1s)—worth about £60 today.

Elkan had a fascinating history, reflecting his background, nationality and the key events of the 20th century. A secular Jew, he fought for Germany in the the First World War; he then developed an interest in medicine and in Zionism. It was after qualifying that he went to Palestine. On returning to Germany he became a target of the Nazis and so emigrated to Britain in 1933. With the help of leading doctors in the birth control movement he added a British medical qualification to his German M.D. and then started his work on the Xenopus pregnancy test. He was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the outbreak of the Second World War (i.e. shortly after his photograph of the Okapi was published) but was then released to work as a doctor in County Durham. After the war he joined a medical practice in Pinner, restarted his pregnancy testing and developed his part-time but intense interest in amphibian and reptilian pathology.

A post on ZooChat shows, incidentally that the Okapi Elkan photographed was the only one in London during the late 1930s, a male ‘born in Africa’ in 1936 which had arrived at the Zoo on 21 July 1937.

Friday 6 September 2019

Waste Not; Want Not. Do Frogs Recycle Their Antifreeze?

Many advances in the biological sciences have come from what can be classified as—and funded as part of—agricultural research. Reproductive biology is one prime example but there are many others.

One advance the origins of which lie firmly in agricultural production is the recycling of urea. We were all taught at school that excess protein in the diet ends up as urea in urine with the nitrogen contained therein lost forever. But things are not that simple. Now it is known that in many animals, the urea is not simple dumped but can be broken down by bacteria in the gut and the nitrogen it contains recycled into protein.

It was the demonstration that urea, a form of non-protein nitrogen, added to the feed of farm ruminants, can be used within the rumen to make protein for growth or milk production that set off the interest in the recycling of urea under different nutritional and environmental regimes. It is not the ruminant’s tissues that are involved in breaking down the urea but the bacteria of the rumen. The bacteria then produce protein using urea as a source of nitrogen and this protein is digested and absorbed further down the alimentary canal. The history of the use of urea rather than expensive protein nitrogen sources was explained by my predecessor but one as Director of the Hannah Research Institute, James Andrew Buchan Smith (1906-2006), known throughout the world as ‘JABS’. Since those early days the recycling of urea nitrogen has been recognised in more and more organisms that produce urea as a nitrogenous waste product.

Amphibian species use high concentrations of urea in the blood for two main purposes: protection against dehydration and as an antifreeze. Some, notably the famous Crab-eating Frog (Fejervarya cancrivora) which can survive in sea water, build up high concentrations of urea in their body fluids in order to prevent the osmotic loss of water into the surrounding salty water. Other frogs that hibernate on land in sub-zero temperatures build up high concentrations of urea to act as a cryoprotectant. The high concentration lowers the freezing point of body fluids, preventing the formation of ice crystals.

In a paper published last year, a team in the USA produced preliminary evidence that the urea accumulated during hibernation in the Wood Frog, Rana sylvatica or Lithobates sylvaticus from northern North America, can be recycled into protein. Bacteria in the hind gut were found which could produce urease, an enzyme not produced by vertebrate tissues but essential for the recycling of urea nitrogen; more were present in winter than summer. Thus it is possible that as temperatures rise in spring, the bacteria become active, the urea is broken down and the products of that breakdown are converted into amino acids and hence protein.

Lithobates sylvaticus (Woodfrog)
Wood Frog
Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0 (]

The findings on this frog indicate what could happen. However, there are some qualitative and quantitative pieces of evidence that would be more fully convincing of the first demonstration of urea recycling in amphibians. In mammals, specific urea transporters carry urea into the interior of the gut. Are they present in amphibians? Similarly, we do not know the magnitude and, therefore, the quantitative importance of any breakdown of urea to the overall nitrogen metabolism of these frogs at the end of hibernation. However, this could be another case of waste not, want not.  

Wiebler JM, Kohl KD, Lee RE, Costanzo JP. 2018 Urea hydrolysis by gut bacteria in a hibernating frog: evidence for urea-nitrogen recycling in Amphibia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285: 20180241. 

Sunday 1 September 2019

Homing Budgerigars at London Zoo. The Bizarre Memorial to a Cranky Duke

Amongst the stranger sights encountered by a visitor to London Zoo in the late 1950s was the sort of wooden shed/aviary more often seen in the back garden of a suburban house. The aviary had been built close to Three-Island Pond. I never saw any inhabitants but the labels/guidebook told us it was an aviary for homing budgerigars erected in memory of the Duke of Bedford who had died in 1953. The world was informed around the time of my visit that the budgerigars had been confined to the aviary because Sparrowhawks and other predators were catching the birds flying free in Regent’s Park. Eventually, the aviary was removed.

It is difficult to conceive of a more useless exhibit for a modern zoo, and those in the zoo world are utterly amazed that such a thing was once thought desirable. How did the aviary and the ‘homing’ budgerigars come to be there?

Hastings William Sackville Russell
12th Duke of Bedford
by Walter Stoneham
bromide print, 1952. NPG x164005
©National Portrait Gallery, London
When the 12th Duke of Bedford, Hastings William Sackville Russell, died in 1953 the world of aviculture together with the bird fancy, always tugging their forelocks to their aristocratic members, produced glowing obituaries. The duke (not to be confused with his father or his son amongst whom the hated was mutual) had been a noted keeper and breeder of birds throughout his life, regularly publishing articles in Avicultural Magazine and Cage Birds under the junior title he held until his father died, Marquess of Tavistock. He specialised in parakeets and other psittacines, known, inaccurately, in the bird fancy as ‘parrot-like’ birds. What was not mentioned in the obituaries and reminiscences was the Duke’s notoriety as a crank. His very strange world view led him to espouse pacifism, fascism, anti-semitism, christian evangelism and support for nazi Germany throughout the war, conduct for which others were arrested and imprisoned. He was summed up by his eldest son, whom he tried to disinherit, as: ‘The loneliest man I ever knew, incapable of giving or receiving love, utterly self-centred and opinionated. He loved birds, animals, peace, monetary reform, the park [Woburn] and religion’.

His death was mysterious. He was found two days after his disappearance on the estate of his house at Endsleigh near Tavistock in Devon (where he kept many of his birds) having been shot with his own gun. The search involved estate workers, police, soldiers and Royal Marines. Cage Birds (15 October 1953) reported as follows:

It appears that in the early morning of Friday last, Oct. 9, His Grace, who had travelled down to his home (Endsleigh) a few days previously with some Budgerigars to add to his stud of homers established there, went out to shoot a Sparrowhawk which was menacing the birds. While stalking the Hawk he seems to have stumbled when forcing his way through some bushes, the gun going off and inflicting fatal injuries.
Both at Endsleigh and Woburn it was the Duke’s practice to release his homing Budgies very early in the morning unless the weather was foggy or otherwise unfavourable.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death after hearing evidence of a shot to the head (The Times 14 October 1953). The lawyer for the family suggested the circumstances to a police superintendent at the inquest: “Assuming that a man was sitting cross-legged watching for something with his gun beside him, if he pulled the gun towards him at this particular place would it be possible for the trigger to catch in any branches?” The reply was “Yes, very possible”.

His eldest son reported in his autobiography that a number of people close to the duke, ‘who had become very depressed during the last months of his life’, thought suicide the more likely explanation for a skilled and safe handler of a shotgun.

The avicultural world then came up with the idea of a memorial, and that idea came to fruition in the form of the aviary for homing budgerigars at London Zoo. The duke had recently published a booklet on establishing colonies of homing or, more accurately, free-flying budgerigars. John James Yealland (1904-1983), Curator of Birds at the Zoo, had previously worked for the Duke of Bedford as aviary attendant.

Wild Budgerigars can be seen in this video:

I just could not help wondering if the memorial to the duke—essentially a garden shed with short-lived inhabitants—was deeply ironic. Was it the equivalent of the £5 left in the will by a millionaire to a despised nephew, or the 1p tip left for a rude waiter? But, no. Press reports stated that it had been built from the subscriptions of budgerigar fanciers; the birds were first released on 18 April 1955. A March 1954 article in the Londonderry Sentinel stated that nine pairs of homing budgerigars had been bought by the Zoological Society from the executor’s of the duke’s estate and:

Site chosen is the old prairie marmots’ compound next to the Three Island Pond Enclosure.
‘The installation of the budgerigars’ home involves much preliminary work.’ Mr John Yealland, curator of birds, said today. ‘First, the 7ft.-high fence lining this enclosure, and two old lime trees in it, will have to come down.
‘The burrows made by many generations of marmots over the past 30 years will have to be filled in.
‘After that, we are putting up a specially designed aviary which will have holes in the roof, in and out of which the budgerigars can fly.’
It was the Avicultrual Society which organised the whole thing. There is a full account, with photographs of those attending the official opening of the aviary by the 13th Duke of Bedford in Avicultural Magazine (61, 3, May-June 1955, 129-130 plus plates).

By June 1957, budgerigars were breeding in the trees of Regent’s Park with press reports indicating the birds fed entirely in the park during summer, returning to the aviary to feed only during the winter. Excess stock was being sent to hospitals, making their homes in the wards and the budgerigars ‘fly in and out of the windows’.

However, as I noted above, the homing budgerigars didn’t last long; Regent’s Park’s Sparrowhawks and other predators discovered them.

The idea of flocks of budgerigars living free during the daytime and returning to the aviary in the evenings did live on. There are reports of a number of budgerigar fanciers attempting to emulate the Duke of Bedford in the 1950s and 60s. The author Roald Dahl had a flock and a hotel in Barbados advertises that it still does. The release of non-native birds into the wild has been unlawful in Britain since 1981.

This map of London Zoo from 1940 shows the site of the marmot enclosure which the homing budgerigar aviary replaced in 1955

The large arrow on this 2019 map of London Zoo (from the opposite direction to that of 1940) shows where the homing budgerigar aviary was situated.

UPDATED 15 January 2022

Duke of Bedford. 1953. Homing Budgerigars. London: Cage Birds

John, Duke of Bedford. 1959. A Silver-Plated Spoon. London: Cassell (and 1960, London: Reprint Society)