Amphibian


I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Gerardo Garcia, Jamie Topsey, Dan Lay and Charlotte Goble at Durrell. In addition to a having a fantastic facility there on the Isle of Jersey, these folks have put together really great programs in training and on-the-ground amphibian conservation. I’m going to try to post a few images here of their facilities. The Agile Frog, one of only 3 amphibian species on Jersey is down to very small numbers in the wild at one location. The Durrell folks have been collecting eggs and headstarting tadpoles and froglets for release for several years now into two locations and are seeing success!  Check out my friend Gerardo Garcia here in this quick video from http://www.durrell.org/Home/Videos/Agile-frog-tadpole-releasing/ that details their work. It’s really great!

In addition to their work with Agile Frogs, Durrell is working with the Mountain Chicken (no, not a feathered kind!), another endangered frog (Leptodactylus fallax) from the caribbean. Last year there was a much publicized rescue of these frogs from the island of Montserrat. You can read more about this at this link:

http://www.durrell.org/Animals/Amphibians/Mountain-Chicken/

I was able to put fit into some tyvek and enter their awesome biosecure facility where they are breeding this rare frog. Gerardo says they hope to return frogs to Montserrat by the end of the year to trial reintroductions in a safer place on the island.

Houston Zoo received a grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife to begin a new conservation education program called Toad Trackers, and they have recently completed their first two classes.

In the Toad Tracker program, teenagers are monitoring wild Gulf Coast Toads (Bufo nebulifer) within the zoo grounds. It is a series of classes in the classroom and in the field, and they also learn about global amphibian declines, in addition to the field training which focuses on collecting morphological, environmental and geographic data (GPS).

The students are thorougyl enjoying themselves so far, and hopefully, are taking away important messages about looking after the environment and amphibians in general. The program also includes a post analysis session after the field training, which includes organizing and answering the data they collected and they must answer several conservation discussion questions. They have to do this to become a certified expert “Toad Tracker”.

More information about this program can be found on the Zoo’s web site, http://www.houstonzoo.org/toad-trackers/

This is another example of a great program developed by zoos to help conserve the world’s amphibians – what programs are your zoos involved with?

Unfortunately, the New Zealand Government wants to make a quick buck by mining some of the beautiful New Zealand forests which are home to Archey’s frogs (Leiopelma archeyi) and Hochstetter’s frogs (Leiopelma hochstetteri). If this goes ahead then we will be able to document the extinction of two more frog species.

Archey's Frog. Iamge: Patrick Crawley.

In the 1990s areas of New Zealand that were considered to be of “high conservation value” (including many National Parks) were placed on Schedule 4 which recognised their conservation significance and proclaimed them as a “No go” area for all other activities. The New Zealand Government is now asking for public submissions about their proposal to remove some of this high conservation value land from Schedule 4 to open it up for mining (coal, gold iron ore and rare minerals). The areas to be mined include several long-term frog monitoring sites where the frog populations have been continually monitored for over 40 years – this represents the best data on frog populations anywhere in the world.

In addition the proposed mining area includes the ‘type’ locality of Archey’s frog (Tokatea on the Coromandel Peninsula) and Hochstetter’s frogs (Coromandel Peninsula). Archey’s frogs only occur in two areas of New Zealand and the Coromandel is considered the ‘stronghold’ population.

“Save our frogs – stop the mining” really is the biggest issue in New Zealand conservation – of course saving the long-tailed bat, woodroses and a North Island brown kiwi along the way is important too!

These endangered frogs (Archey’s are Critically Endangered losing 88% of their population since 1996) are just hanging in there and without our help they will disappear. If we destroy their habitat then we will quickly lose a part of one of the most important pieces of New Zealand history as well as a large piece of the amphibian evolutionary tree. We have a moral obligation to protect these original inhabitants of New Zealand – the little people of the forest.

For more information on how the frogs will be affected (including maps of distribution and proposed areas to be mined) click here…… http://www.nzfrogs.org/

To see some ppt about the mining issue during a recent Panel Discussion (including frogs) click here……. http://www.otago.ac.nz/law/nrl/mining/index.html

For more information about the mining in Coromandel click here……. http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/saving-our-environment/threats-and-impacts-/mining-/mining-coromandel

Please make a submission to the New Zealand Government by clicking here ….. http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/mining

A Yellow-spotted Bell Frog. Photo: Michael McFadden

Some great news was reported during the past week here in Australia – the rediscovery after 30 years of the Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea). Researchers from the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water confirmed the sighting of the species in the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney.

Six tadpoles have been collected and have been taken to Taronga Zoo, where they will form the founders of what zoo staff hope will be a successful breeding program, eventuating in the release of captive-bred animals back to the wild. Taronga Zoo staff have been involved in serveal highly successful breeding programs for other amphibian species, including the Southern Corroboree Frog, Spotted Tree Frog,  Booroolong Frog, and the Green and Golden Bell Frog.

This discovery is really exciting news – something that is refreshing amongst the world-wide decline of amphibians. We mustn’t forget though, that amphibians around the world need our help to prevent further extinctions.

The beautiful Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only three animals of this species have been seen in the wild since late 2007 and it is now quite possibly Extinct in the Wild.

Fortunately for the species though, approximately 1,500 animals still exist aboard the AArk, thanks to the work of Project Golden Frog (www.ProjectGoldenFrog.org) and the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) (www.houstonzoo.org/amphibians/) in central Panama.

The Amphibian Ark is currently trying to help create a dedicated facility in Panama, at the EVACC, to house an expanding population of golden frogs that will hopefully someday be used for reintroduction back into the wild. Work on building this his facility is almost complete, but requires an additional $15,000 to complete.

Please give the gift of gold – make a donation (maybe in someone else’s honor) and help us to save one of the most spectacular amphibian species, the Panamanian Golden Frog, from extinction. Please click here to make your donation.

In February I facilitated an amphibian Conservation Needs Assessment workshop for Guatemalan species, at the Museum of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City. Participants at the workshop were Carlos Vasquez, Jonathan Campbell (Guatemalan Regional Chair of the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group), Ted Papenfuss , Manuel Acevedo, Roderico Anzueto , Liza García, Jacobo Conde, Alejandra Zamora and Gustavo Ruano. 

During the workshop, 142 Guatemalan species were evaluated by the participants to assess actions that are required to ensure their survival, with species falling into one or more of six different conservation roles:

  • 34 species requiring rescue – Species that are in imminent danger of extinction (locally or globally) and requires ex situ management, as part of an integrated program, to ensure their survival.
  • 42 species requiring in situ conservation – Species for which mitigation of threats in the wild may still bring about their successful conservation.
  • 58 species requiring in situ research – Species that for one or more reasons require further in situ research to be carried out as part of the conservation action for the species. One or more critical pieces of information is not known at this time.
  • 12 species requiring ex situ research – Species undergoing specific applied research that directly contributes to the conservation of the species, or a related species, in the wild (this would include clearly defined ‘model’ or ‘surrogate’ species).
  • 12 species suited to conservation education – Species that are specifically selected for management – primarily in zoos and aquariums – to inspire and increase knowledge in visitors, in order to promote positive behavioural change. For example, when a species is used to raise financial or other support for field conservation projects (this would include clearly defined ‘flagship’ or ‘ambassador’ species).
  • 37 species which do not currently require conservation action

Workshop participants assessing the conservation needs of Guatemalan amphibians.

At the end of the workshop, participants discussed the results, and the next steps that are required. Further in situ research work is currently underway, with a number of universities currently involved in field research. Interest is high in holding an amphibian husbandry workshop in Guatemala over the coming months to increase the in-country capacity to establish successful ex situ conservation programs.

A proposal is currently being drafted to seek support for a small amphibian conservation breeding and display facility, with display facilities for one or two common frog and salamander species, and an off-display area where husbandry skills can be increased, and several species can be established for captive breeding.

Funds for the workshop were generously provided by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Fund, and we are grateful for their support for this workshop.

The detailed results from the workshop can be found on the Amphibian Ark’s data portal.

Last week I visited the Balsa de los Sapos amphibian conservation program at the Catholic University (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador)  in Quito, Ecuador with pathologist Allan Pessier (San Diego Zoo) and veterinarian Brad Wilson (Atlanta). Our mission was to help Dr. Luis Coloma and his staff with health and disease issues within their collection. Heidi Ross, c0-director of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in Panama also joined us to relate her experiences working with an equally large and diverse collection of threatened amphibians.

Allan Pessier demonstrates necropsy techniques to Balsa staff

A male Gastrotheca cornuta (Marsupial Frog) at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

On the way home from an Amphibian Ark Conservation Needs Assessment workshop in Guatemala, I stopped by Atlanta for a few days, primarily to work with Atlanta-based internet marketing agency, Moxie Interactive (Moxie is helping to redevelop AArk’s web site, but more about that in a future post), but I also took advantage of being in Atlanta to visit the botanical garden.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) has been involved in a number of breeding programs for endangered Central American frog species since the late 1990s. They have been successful breeding speices such as Gastrotheca, Anotheca etc. and currently maintain over a hundred animals in various enclosures, both on display in the Fuqua Conservatory, and in off-display breding facilities.

The ABG also makes use of a specially designed “pod” for much of it’s breeding efforts. The pod has been created from an un-used shipping container, and was modelled closely on the original amphibian pod designed by Gerry Marantelli from the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about amphibian containers on the AArk web site.

The inside of the frog pod at the Atlanta Botanic Gardens

I’d like to thank ABG Amphibian Specialist, Robert, for taking the time to show me around the amphiban facilities, and I would strongly encourage people to pay a visit to the ABG to learn more about their very successful amphibian conservation program.

Three new caecilians in the Ichthyophis genus were recently discovered in north-east Indoa. Photo courtesy of The Hindi Newspaper.

In October, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor S.D. Biju from Delhi University, discovered three new caecilian species in Manipur and Nagaland in north-east India. The latest finds increases the number of  caecilian species inthe region to nine.

The new species were reported in Zootaxa 2267: 26-42 (19 Oct. 2009) – See Kamei, Rachunliu G. (India), Wilkinson, Mark (UK), Gower, David J. (UK) & Biju, S. D. (India). Three new species of striped Ichthyophis (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Ichthyophiidae) from the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Nagaland.

An abtract from the article can be found on the Zootaxa web site.

Lungless caecilian

Photographs courtesy Marvalee Wake, University of California, Berkeley, via Proceedings of the Royal Society B

A second, lungless caecilian species has recently been discovered in Guyana. This new species, Caecilita iwokramae, is very different to the other known lungless caecilian species, Typhlonectes eiselti, since it is only 11 cm long and it lives on land. T. eiselti was 72 cm in length and is completely aquatic. It is known only from a single holotype specimen.

Click here for the full report on this new species, on the National Geographic News web site. More information about T. eiselti can be found in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

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