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Talk by Jack Ashby, Assistant Director, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Think of a platypus: they lay eggs, produce milk without nipples and venom without fangs, and can detect electricity. Or a marsupial: their babies can climb themselves into a pouch after just a couple of weeks in the womb, and some species can produce young like an endless conveyor belt of reproduction. From platypuses to kangaroos, Australia has some truly astonishing mammals, with incredible, unfamiliar features. But how does the world regard these creatures? And what does that mean for their conservation?

In this talk, zoologist Jack Ashby will share what he learnt whilst researching his book, Platypus Matters. Informed by experiences on fieldwork in Australia, as well as his work with thousands of museum specimens – including important finds here in Cambridge – Jack will explain historical mysteries and debunk myths, but also reveal the toll these myths can take. He makes clear that calling these perfectly adapted animals ‘weird’ or ‘primitive’—or incorrectly implying that Australia is an ‘evolutionary backwater’, a perception that can be traced back to the country’s colonial history—has undermined conservation.


Location: Lecture Theatre A - University of Cambridge Admissions Office, New Museums site, Bene't Street, CB2 3PT

Booking required: Book your free tickets here

Part of the Cambridge Festival 2023


Bio: Jack Ashby is the Assistant Director of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. His work centres on engaging people with the natural world, chiefly through museums, and the colonial biases that museums often exhibit. His new book, Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals (2022) celebrates these iconic animals, explores how the wider world came to know them, and asks how these histories impact on their conservation today.

He is currently an Art Fund Headley Fellow, researching the colonial histories of the Australian mammal collections in Cambridge.

He is a trustee of the Natural Sciences Collections Association, and an Honorary Research Fellow in UCL Science and Technology Studies.

Wednesday, 29 March, 2023 - 18:00 to 19:00