Amphibian Ark

A terrific story in Friday’s Christian Science Monitor (story HERE) reports on the valiant efforts to stave off amphibian extinctions in Panama. The story details the work of a Panamanian with the tattoo of a toad on his calf who has teamed with a Wisconsin woman who used to be in the Peace Corps. The ravages of chytrid are detailed. A very good read. Good to see the connection to Amphibian Ark, and good to see quotes from the Ark’s Kevin Zippel.

Sometimes (OK, often) Peta takes stances against zoos. Zoos are integral to the campaign to avert the mass extinction of amphibians, so this blog is pro zoos. But Peta has inspired a 19-year-old to change her name to Cutout to draw attention to Peta’s fight against frog dissections. Story here.  If only Amphibian Ark could inspire people to change their names to Amphibian Ark. Or, Amphiby N. Ark. Or, Year of the Frog. Something like that. To the young woman named Cutout (nee Jennifer Thornburg), I want you to know that I signed the Peta petition you wanted me to. Now, would you sign the Amphibian Ark petition to urge governments to rally to protect endangered amphibian species? You see, from one-third to one-half of the 6,000-or-so amphibian species will go extinct in our lifetime unless emergency measures are taken. Amphibians are earth’s canaries in the coal mine, warning us of changes in our environment that are growing worse and will one day affect humans. Please go to the Amphibian Ark petition here. Thanks.

It just struck me that the financial crisis we’re reeling in offers a parallel of sorts to the crisis facing the amphibian animal class (which is the point of this blog, after all). Instead of wealth disappearing, it’s entire species. Imagine losing 50% of all you have. Now imagine losing 50% percent of all species of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians. That’s what scientists predict in our lifetime. It’s not risky loans behind the frog’s demise, it’s climate change, loss of habitat, pollution, and a toxic fungus called chytrid.

Make no mistake, the amphibian animal class is in crisis after thriving since the days of the dinosaur. Now they’re in real danger of going the way of the dinosaur. It won’t take $700 billion to save them, just about $100,000 per species or $50 million in total.

Learn more at

We’ve been talking about at least one-third of amphibian species disappearing in our lifetime unless emergency measures are taken. Now this: scientists with the Zoological Society of London predicting that half of Europe’s amphibian species are en route to extinction by 2050, primarily because of habitat destruction, global warming and the chytrid fungus. Amphibian Ark patron Sir David Attenborough was on hand at the announcement. This is the first time I’ve noticed a specific year mentioned re: impending extinctions. We’re 42 years away from that doomsdate. There is a plan to avert the mass extinction. It’s called Amphibian Ark.

 An exceprt from the Zoological Society of London Web site:

“Amphibians are the lifeblood of many environments, playing key roles in the functions of ecosystems, and it is both extraordinary and terrifying that in just a few decades the world could lose half of all these species,” commented Sir David Attenborough. “I am delighted to be working with the Zoological Society of London to promote amphibian conservation, in the hope that we will not be hearing the dying croaks of these amazing creatures in the years to come.”

The Missouri Dept. of Conservation is putting out a smart list of things we can do to help amphibians. (I would add a seventh and eighth: Help pay for the millions of dollars needed to coordinate the rescue of hundreds of species by contributing to Amphibian Ark, and sign the online petition.) Here’s the Missouri Dept. of Conservation’s list as reported in Kansas City infoZine:

Nothing benefits amphibians more directly than providing clean, safe places where they can live. If you already have a pond or stream on your property, enhance its habitat value by ensuring there are logs, rocks, vegetation and other places for them to perch or hide. If you don’t have water on your land, consider building a lake or backyard pond.

Keep garbage, trash and chemicals out of lakes and streams by disposing of them properly. Apply only as much fertilizer as necessary to lawns, gardens and crops, and use natural methods to control weeds and insects when possible.

Plants and animals imported from other areas can decimate native amphibian species or degrade habitat quality. Don’t buy exotic pets or release them into the wild. Also avoid releasing live bait that is left over after fishing. Instead, put it in trash receptacles far from water.

Reduce your water consumption by catching rainwater and using it to water gardens and potted plants. Untreated water has no chlorine, making it better for plants. It also leaves more water in lakes and streams for amphibians.

Driving less, setting your thermostat back and using energy-efficient light bulbs reduce pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Buying fuel-efficient vehicles and choosing renewable energy sources helps, too.

Go online or visit a library to learn more about the world’s 6,000-plus amphibian species and what is troubling them. Knowledge is power.

The idea of the Copenhagen Consensus is exciting and noble. Leading economists review the world’s most critical challenges and answer this question: “Imagine you had $75bn to donate to worthwhile causes. What would you do, and where should we start?” (Source: here.) Their answers get a lot of attention and influence decision making by governments, the wealthy, and well-meaning corporations on where to spread the money in order to do the most good. The Copenhagen Consensus Project was mentioned in the current issue of Esquire to gird the argument that too much attention is being given to global warming when there are numerous problem areas to invest in that would generate a much great human benefit.

Here’s just one problem with the whole wonderful exercise, and it’s coming from admittedly someone who advocates for Amphibian Ark’s agenda to avert a mass extinction of ampibian species: the problem is, biodiversity is not on the list of problems that the economists dwelled upon. What a great thing that would be for there to be a similar effort focused on the dire situation facing many animal species.

I encourage you to learn more. Again, this is a great undertaking. Here’s the press release from Copenhagen Consensus. 

Oh, incidentally, $50 million – $60 million would put the 500 or so threatened amphibian species on “the Ark” — at a cost of about $100,000 per species.

 Great news that Jeff Corwin, with backing from Clorox (the first corporate sponsor of Amphibian Ark), has taped a documentary on the amphibian mass extinction that premieres this November on Animal Planet. Here’s what I cut and pasted from Animal Planet’s Web site:

Animal Planet and Clorox have joined forces to focus worldwide attention on the deadly fungus that is destroying frogs and other amphibian populations around the world through a new multimedia project called The Vanishing Frog. The film, produced by Discovery Studios, sends Animal Planet’s Jeff Corwin on a worldwide mission to uncover clues to the frog’s deadly plight while also unifying viewers with a common cause of environmental and wildlife protection. The Vanishing Frog is slated to premiere Fall 2008.

From the rocky streams of coastal Australia to the jungles of South America, and even to the American West, the world’s frogs are mysteriously vanishing at alarming rates. Frogs and their relatives have thrived on earth for more than 360 million years, but now they’re under serious threat. Experts believe that as many as one-third to one-half of the planet’s 6,000 amphibian species are in danger of disappearing — victims of one of the most significant mass extinctions since the dinosaurs. Why are amphibians in such dire straits? And can we take action to save them? Jeff Corwin, who has experienced the most mammoth of mammals, reptiles and marine life worldwide, will take on these questions in the documentary The Vanishing Frog.

“Frogs are incredibly amazing creatures with a variety of astonishing skills and innate abilities,” commented Corwin. “The plight of the small amphibians is — unfortunately — quite large. Frogs have been with us since the dinosaurs; they are a critical part of the ecosystem and now they are disappearing.”

“Jeff is so passionate about raising awareness for this crisis and has such a deep knowledge of the issues affecting these fascinating creatures that he is the perfect person to take us on this journey of discovery,” noted Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet. “We’re thrilled that our partner Clorox has been an ardent advocate for the amphibian crisis and is taking that commitment even further by partnering with us to produce The Vanishing Frog documentary project.”

Clorox, whose namesake bleach is used in the field everyday in the battle to save the frogs, last fall became the first corporate sponsor of the Amphibian Ark’s “Year of the Frog” initiative and signed on to The Vanishing Frog project while it was still in development.

It’s been written in this blog many times that it will take $50-$60 million to place the most critically endangered amphibian species onto the ark — into the “protective custody” of the scientists of Amphibian Ark who will house and breed the species back to a critical mass for eventual reintroduction into the wild. The top Amphibian Ark scientist, Kevin Zippel, has encouraged us to “do the math” and see that $100,000 to save a species is an exceptionally low cost. While some corporations like Clorox have made important financial and “in kind” contributions to Amphibian Ark, many more corporate sponsors are needed. A brand manager, or a CMO, might ask, who cares about frogs? I’ll let the following answer the question:

 I have a young daughter who loves The Disney Channel, and therefore I’ve come to know the very charming young actress Selena Gomez, star of the channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place. She is now appearing in a PSA on the amphibian crisis with Kermit the Frog. You can learn more about it on I looked up Selena’s origins on Wikipedia and see that her father comes from Mexico and her mother has Italian in her blood. So, Selena, if you’re reading this, thanks. And here are some links to show you what the frog situation is in Mexico and Italy:

Here’s the full press release on the PSA:


PSA Launched to Help Amphibians

Disney, Amphibian Ark, Conservation International (CI) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have launched a Public Service Announcement (PSA) starring Kermit the Frog and Selena Gomez from Disney Channel’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place” calling attention to the plight of the world’s amphibians.

Washington, DC (Vocus/PRWEB ) September 3, 2008 -– Disney, Amphibian Ark, Conservation International (CI) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have launched a Public Service Announcement (PSA) starring Kermit the Frog and Selena Gomez from Disney Channel’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place” calling attention to the plight of the world’s amphibians.



The PSA began airing on Disney Channel this week and asks people to visit to get involved in amphibian conservation. Broadcast quality copies of the PSA are available for download at

This year has been declared the Year of the Frog to mark a major conservation effort to address the amphibian crisis and to engage the public in conservation efforts. Frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians are in danger. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) predicts that at least one-third of known amphibian species are in danger of disappearing from the earth for good.

“We are honored to have the help of Kermit and Selena to spread the message of amphibian conservation,” said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “Amphibian Ark, Conservation International and zoos and aquariums around the world are working hard to save amphibians.”

“The disappearance of amphibians around the world is not only a symptom of our impact on the planet, it is also an opportunity to unite in the challenge to do something about it. With nearly two decades of intensive research into the causes of amphibian declines, we are well positioned to implement conservation projects to save even Critically Endangered frogs, salamanders, and caecilians from extinction,” said Claude Gascon, Executive Vice President of Conservation International and Co-Chair of the Amphibian Specialist Group.

“I cannot say it any better than Kermit did so many years ago: ‘It seems to me that if you wait until the frogs and toads have croaked their last to take some action, you’ve missed the point,’” said Amphibian Ark Program Director Kevin Zippel. “This is the greatest extinction event amphibians have ever experienced and humans have ever witnessed. Since we are the cause, we must also be the solution.”

Amphibian Ark is a partnership between the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. It was formed to develop, promote, and guide short term captive management of threatened amphibians, making possible the long-term survival of species for which adequate protection in the wild is not currently possible. For additional information about Amphibian Ark please visit

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity in the biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas and key marine ecosystems. With headquarters in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information about CI, visit

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit 501c(3) organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting an institution dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, the AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, please visit    

What a thorough, great article on Amphibian Ark in today’s Washington Post! The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington and the Bronx Zoo in NYC are doing terrific work to save the Panamanian golden frog and Kihansi spray toad, respectively. Story here. Excerpts:

With thousands of amphibian species facing unprecedented threats to their survival, scientists have launched a global effort to collect them in zoos in an attempt to save them from disappearing altogether. Named Amphibian Ark, the program aims to keep 500 species in captivity and breed enough to eventually reintroduce them into the wild.

“In terms of scope, I think this is the biggest conservation project that humanity has ever tried to tackle,” said Kevin Zippel, the program’s director, who said the initiative is testing zoos’ ability to raise and maintain animals with specialized needs. “In the course of the last four years, we’ve realized how badly off amphibians are,” he said.

Scientists have been tracking the rapid disappearance of amphibians for two decades, but new evidence suggests the animals face increasingly grave peril. A third to a half of all amphibians are now threatened with extinction; 165 species have already vanished. In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, three of every four amphibian species are critically endangered.

Climate change is altering many habitats, forcing some species to move to ever higher elevations to survive. Increased traffic poses a problem when the creatures migrate across roadways. A recent survey of Indiana highways, reported in the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology, found that amphibians and reptiles accounted for 95 percent of roadkill. In Appalachia, mountaintop-removal mining threatens several species of salamanders, which can take 70 years to recover from such drastic disruptions.

Perhaps more important, however, may be the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which researchers say has caused amphibian populations to plummet in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.

The Bronx Zoo’s Kihansi spray toads fell prey to several pressures, including habitat destruction and, most likely, the fungus and pesticides. Their natural habitat encompasses just 10 acres in the Kihansi River gorge. In 2000, a World Bank-funded dam diverted 90 percent of the flow that sustained the toads, and their numbers started dropping precipitously.

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