Although having the rather grand title of Evolutionary Biologist, Dr Rhys Jones is known and loved for his down to earth approach to wildlife and their welfare and his appreciation of Nature and the outdoors. He tells me, “I’m living in a flat at the moment, so I don’t have a garden but that is my dream, a nice big garden where I can grow my own veg, keep bees and have a dog. I don’t think of animals as pets, I call them guests and I have several guests at the flat at the moment, that are at various stages of recuperation from various accidents. I have eleven reptiles and of course, Dude. Dude is a big Asiatic toad that crept into someone’s suitcase in Thailand and ended up here. They are quite prominent in Chinese medicine so we thought he’d be safer here and he seems very happy. He’s gorgeous.”
Despite BBC’s ‘Rhys to the Rescue’ proving extremely popular, Rhys still doesn’t think of himself as a presenter, “I simply front programmes and as a scientist I love collecting knowledge to explain what is going on around us. Being on the telly allows me to share that knowledge. Every day is an adventure and I want it to be that way until I die.”
“I was brought up on a Council estate and my Mum was a single mum until I was four so we didn’t have much money but I always loved books and had loads as a kid. My favourite was the Ladybird bird book of Dinosaurs with great pictures of creatures that used to walk the Earth. The diversity of Life amazed me and I wanted to learn more about it all.”
“As a treat, my Granddad took me to see Indiana Jones when I was about 7. When Indiana Jones was referred to as Dr Jones and I turned to Granddad and said ‘He’s not a proper Dr though is he, ‘cos he hasn’t got a stethoscope?’ He explained there are different types of Dr’s and I said, well, my name is Jones so I could be a Dr then couldn’t I. Granddad just smiled and said, ‘Er, yes of course you could.”
Rhys admits to hating school and it wasn’t until he was 30 that he discovered he was severely dyslexic. He shares, “My reading age was 11 but my IQ was 140. It all made sense. I found school boring but had excelled at the things I enjoyed doing like dancing, art and music. I think being dyslexic, I tend to make more use other senses and am just more visual and creative for that reason. I had great success with the Rock band, Night Stalkers in the 80’s and also pursuing the Martial Art Bujinkan Ninpo Taijutsu, (though don’t ask me to spell it, he laughs.) After a couple of years as a doorman for various Clubs in Cardiff, I eventually thought I can’t do this when I’m 40, I need a vocation. Animals were always my thing. I have always had an empathy with them.”
Rhys then proceeds to recall the most amazing synchronistic story which led to him obtaining a degree in zoology and genetics, a Master of Philosophy in medical molecular entomology and PhD in molecular evolution and specialising in herpetology and parasitology. He is also a Cardiff University Distinguished Visiting Fellow.
Rhys remains humble, “I have had the most amazing opportunities. I just look for the positive in everything. Even when I broke my back, I defied the negativity of the medics and just followed my intuition. There have been dark times but it is not in my Nature to give up. You have to find the courage to express yourself and challenge yourself. We are all capable of such great things.