endangered species

Rhinoderma darwinii. Photo by Mono Andes

Rhinoderma darwinii. Photo by Mono Andes

Just back from a very quick but productive trip to Santiago and Concepcion to see the current breeding facilities for Darwin’s Frog Rhinoderma darwinii. This unique species was historically found in many places in Chile and Argentina but habitat loss and other pressures have worked to dwindle its numbers. The only other species of Darwin’s Frog Rhinoderma rufum has not been seen in many years and continues to elude field researchers. Both exhibit forms of parental care with the male carrying tadpoles in it’s vocal sack.  

The National Zoo facility in Santiago is coming along really well. The building looks fantastic and will surely be a treat for visitors peering into the lab. Atlanta Botanical Gardens staff were there recently installing tanks and plumbing and Marcela and Mauricio are working hard to get things polished off. It will serve as an excellent facility for showcasing this important conservation effort and the commitments of the players to keep it going. I think they hope to start with a few specimens this winter if I recall. The Atlanta Botanical Garden has launched a website at  www.savedarwinsfrogs.org detailing their efforts on this project. 
The Concepcion facility is also looking good. Marcela Tirado and I visited for the day and by luck met up with Klaus Busse who was in town. Klaus offered much of his wonderful experience to Dr. Juan Carlos Ortiz and graduate student Carlos Barrientos who have been maintaining eleven animals there since April 09. I witnessed a very solid connection made between National Zoo and Concepcion staff regarding husbandry issues, food colonies, and overall collaboration on their programs.
My hunch is that they will reproduce them very soon, as we observed calling and amplexus all day! 

Here is a great video about 82 tadpoles that were rescued from a nearly dry creek in the San Jacinto Mountains, now being brought to maturity by the San Diego Zoo’s center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species. What makes this all the more remarkable is that the adults will be California mountain yellow-legged frogs, near the top of the most endangered amphibian species list for North America.  Here’s the complete story.


Here’s an excellent gallery of photos from the Bristol Zoo’s leapfrog event, by BBC Bristol. Among the many things written on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, there were dozens of comments that stood out to me. But here is just a sample. (In each excerpt or quote there is a link to the original story.)

The Chinese calendar may designate 2008 as the Year of the Rat, but in wildlife terms it is very definitely the year of the frog. Conservationists are dedicating the next 12 months to saving frogs and other amphibians, such as toads, newts and salamanders, which are now threatened as never before by a disease which seems to be exacerbated by global warming.

The coming year is playing out to be a pivotal one for many of the planet’s endangered species; whether or not they endure will – to a large extent – depend on the steps humanity takes to protect their habitats and avert the worst of global warming. Few are perhaps as vulnerable as amphibians.

A twilight Frog Concert will be held on February 29 at Melbourne Zoo.

“This was a fun way of bringing home some very serious messages about the future many amphibian species face and a great launch pad for Year of the Frog.”

The chytrid fungus is such a threat to amphibians that it is estimated that 500 species need to be taken into captivity to prevent them from dying out.

“Amphibians have been around for over 360 million years, enduring at least three mass extinction events, including the one that eliminated the dinosaurs. But amphibian species are becoming extinct at a pace faster than anything we have experienced,”

Scientists say the worldwide decline of amphibians is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns;one that may portend greater threats to the ecological balance of the planet.

Scientists now fear that the largest species mass extinction since the dinosaurs will likely happen in our time and among the most endangered are amphibians including frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians.

Time’s fun when you’re having flies.  :-)

Thanks to hundreds of hopping children and their parents, dozens of caring zoos, a lot of reporters and bloggers, and the compassion of authorities like Sir David Attenborough and Jeff Corwin, the global campaign to save amphibians got a nice lift on the eve of the Year of the Frog.


LONDON — Sir David Attenborough applies finishing touches to the new frog sculpture at the London Zoo. Story here.

BANGLADESH — Below, kids at the Dhaka Zoo in Bangladesh have some leapfrog fun. (Here’s story from Daily Star in Bangladesh.)



LOS ANGELES – Above, The Living Desert’s leapfrog event (in California), and story from The Desert Sun. 

ST. LOUIS — Below, the St. Louis Zoo gets kids leapfrogging, photo courtesy of KSDK-TV.


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (below, left), and WIRRAL, UK (right), with story.

uae-12-31.jpg chester-zoo-12-31-07.jpg

We know of other news stories on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day including some in LondonIndia; India’s national newspaper; Scotland; Australia; London again; United Arab Emirates; Bangladesh (see above); as well as a list of VIBs (B for bloggers) mentioned in the previous post.

More to come.

If you’re new to the crisis facing amphibians, here is a sequence of videos that will bring you up to speed. Then at the bottom, a list of things to do, if you want to hop in and help.

First, here’s Jeff Corwin, making us care: 

Second, here’s Amphibian Ark’s program officer, explaining the importance of amphibians, and what is being done:

And to complete the video trilogy, here’s a look at a rescue project from Latin America (in two parts):

So now what do you do?  Glad you asked, and thanks for caring:

  1. Sign the “save the frog” petition. Click here.
  2. Make a donation to the nonprofit group coordinating the Amphibian Ark rescue missions and breeding programs. Click here.
  3. Call your zoo and find out if there is a way you can help, right there in your town. 
  4. Do a Google search for “amphibian extinction” and keep learning. There are wonderful New Year’s Eve posts about all of this written by experts, and here are links to some of them: Treehugger’s post by Jeremey Elton Jacquot; Darren Nash’s post (he’s actually a  dinosaur expert from England); Rhett Butler’s post from Mongabay; Brian Gratwicke’s post; the DearKitty blog post and video; AJ Cann’s post; Bill Slawski’s blog; and Greg’s post on  his notextinctyet blog.  
  5. If you’re a student, ask your teacher to make saving the frogs a classroom project.
  6. Forward this to as many people as you can think of.

When you have a year named after a cause — in this case, 2008 has been declared The Year of the Frog by conservation groups — you’d better make the best of it. This year is the moment to capture the world’s attention and do something that truly is achievable — averting a mass extinction. Let’s not blow it.

This news release was just pushed out worldwide. It captures what’s happening on Monday, and includes some assessment of what’s been accomplished so far in mobilizing the world to save frogs:

On New Year’s Eve, Zoos Hop into ‘The Year of the Frog’ with Leapfrog Events  Starting in New Zealand and Ending in California

LONDON, Dec. 28 /PRNewswire/ — A child’s game will be the focal point of a serious campaign to avert a mass extinction of amphibian species when zoos around the world hold leapfrog events on Dec. 31 to usher in “the year of the frog.” Beginning at the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand, and ending at The Living Desert in Palm Desert, California, zoo visitors will form leapfrog lines and hop over each other — to stretch their legs, and to raise awareness.From one-third to one-half of the planet’s 6,000 amphibian species are in danger of extinction. As many as 165 species may already be extinct.

Amphibian Ark, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) have declared 2008 “The Year of the Frog” to raise awareness and critical funding.Countries with zoos holding New Year’s Eve leapfrog events include, by time zone, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Russia, South Africa, Latvia, Sweden, Hungary, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Mexico, and Colombia. 

Amphibians are often called “the canaries in the coal mine,” and when hundreds of species are in decline it serves as a global warning to other species. Amphibian Ark, part of the Global Conservation Network, a 501(c)3 organization, develops, promotes, and guides short-term captive management of the most threatened amphibians. Amphibian Ark’s work makes possible the long-term survival of species for which adequate protection in the wild is not currently possible. 

A list of many participating zoos can be found on http://www.amphibianark.org. The Web site explains the crisis, features an online petition and links to blogs from conservation and wildlife experts, and accepts donations to help fund Amphibian Ark’s work. It will cost $50-$60 million to rescue the 500 most threatened species.  The leapfrog events are preceded by considerable momentum for the campaign to save amphibians:

– Sir David Attenborough, whose “Life in Cold Blood” television series on amphibians and reptiles will debut in the spring, last week attended the unveiling of a frog sculpture at the London Zoo to help usher in the special year.

– Jeff Corwin, co-host of CNN’s “Planet in Peril” specials and host of ”The Jeff Corwin Experience” on Animal Planet, has taped PSAs.

– Earlier this month the Clorox Company (NYSE: CLX) became the first corporate sponsor of Amphibian Ark.

– The U.S.-based National Association of Biology Teachers announced a partnership with Amphibian Ark that will more deeply engage 6,000 teachers in the cause.

Came across this article explaining The Living Desert’s plans for the New Year’s Eve leapfrog-athon. The Palm Springs, California, zoo is believed to be the most westward zoo holding the event.

Living Desert joins global ‘leap’ into Year of the Frog
Leap-frog event New Year’s Eve highlights threatened amphibians
K Kaufmann
Yes, 2008 is a leap year, but that’s not why the Living Desert is inviting children from across the Coachella Valley to come to the park for free next Monday at 11 a.m. for a history-making game of leap frog.
The coming year has also been designated the Year of Frog–to raise global awareness of the rising threat to amphibian species–and zoos from London to Palm Desert will be launching the campaign on New Year’s Eve with leap-frog-themed events.

“At 11 a.m., each of the participating zoos will kick off a leap-frog, so there is a chain reaction as we jump into 2008,” said Kimberly Bowers, spokeswoman for the Living Desert.

The first 100 children 12 years and under to arrive at the park New Year’s Eve will get in free, Bowers said. Children over 12 and adults will pay regular admission.

Event participants will also get gift bags and frog masks, she said.

The Living Desert is located at 47-900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert.

Information: 346-5694, ext. 2610

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums last week released its “Top 10 Wildlife Conservation Success Stories in 2007″. The Detroit Zoo’s success with Wyoming toads made #1 on the list: 

1. Terrific toadlets
Habitat loss, pollution and disease are hitting some of the smallest creatures on earth the hardest. Frog populations have been in sharp decline the past few decades, but a fortunate native species is getting a helping hand from scientists. Staff at the Detroit Zoo are raising 40 juvenile Wyoming toads, one of the most endangered amphibians in the United States. The species is now considered functionally extinct in the wild, with the last remaining individuals only found in zoos and aquariums across the country. The Detroit Zoo has successfully released more than 6,000 tadpoles, toadlets and toads in Wyoming since the program’s inception in 1995. Recent good news indicates that the recovery efforts may be paying off: this summer in a monitored protected area, conservationists discovered the first clutch of Wyoming toad eggs found in the wild in ten years.


I came across this terrific article by St. Louis Zoo President and CEO Jeffrey Bonner. Jeffrey has helped pull together the whole Year of the Frog campaign and is one of the top three overseeing activity of Amphibian Ark.

What do we lose if we lose the frogs?

“Kings Play Chess On Fancy Glass Stools.”
Anyone know that sentence? It’s a mnemonic device, a shorthand way of remembering the categories scientists use to classify all life on Earth. The first letters of each word are the keys: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.
Now, if I said that half of an entire kingdom was going to become extinct in the next five years — say, the animal kingdom — there would be widespread global panic. Little wonder, as it would be the end of life on this planet as we know it.
On the other hand, if I told you that we just lost another species, you might shrug your shoulders. You might figure that losing a single species is a little like popping a rivet on an airplane. Planes have oodles of rivets. You wouldn’t want to lose too many, and you wouldn’t want lose an important one — like the last rivet holding the wing on. But losing an occasional rivet isn’t exactly catastrophic.
Where we have problems is toward the middle of our categories. For example, what if we only lose half a “class” of animals? A class isn’t as broadly encompassing as a kingdom or a phylum, but it takes in a lot more than a species or a genus. Is losing half a class a catastrophe, or is it just another popped rivet?
Well, we’re about to find out. In the next five to ten years, about half of the different kinds of animals that make up the class known as amphibians probably will become extinct.
There are about 6,000 known species in the class of amphibians: frogs, toads and salamanders take in most of them. As I write this, 32 percent of those 6,000 are threatened, and another 23 percent are believed to be threatened. (We don’t have quite enough data to make the call with absolute certainty.)
Amphibians face many of the same problems that other threatened species face: habitat loss, climate change, pollution and so on. But they also face a unique challenge. There is a fungus, which was born in Africa, that is sweeping our planet. It’s called the chytrid fungus, and wherever it arrives, it kills about 80 percent of the amphibians in the area within a year. It is lethal only at certain altitudes, so it won’t destroy all of the world’s amphibians, but more than half is a pretty conservative estimate.
Scientists working with the St. Louis Zoo just confirmed that it’s here in Missouri. The fungus cannot be stopped in the wild. Our only hope is to get to the amphibians before the fungus arrives and bring them into zoos and aquariums for breeding and safe-keeping. The hope is that the fungus subsequently will run its course, after which the animals can be released again. Call it “protective custody.”
We do not know what the assault of the chytrid fungus means for the web of life that sustains us. Frogs and their kin are both predators and prey. They are critically important in sustaining the delicate balance of nature. But are they just another rivet or do they keep the wings on the plane?
The skin of amphibians is more permeable than ours — things pass through it fairly easily — so they have developed some unique biological strategies to protect themselves. For example, their skin produces a wide variety of substances that kill microbes and viruses.
Last year 14 of these substances, taken from just a handful of different frog species, were tested in a lab; three of the 14 showed a remarkable capacity to completely inhibit HIV infection. I was surprised that a discovery that shows such promise for inhibiting the mucosal transmission of AIDS didn’t make the news, but maybe I shouldn’t be: The fact that we’re going to have some very silent nights on this planet in just a few short years hasn’t attracted much attention, either.
Contemplating the silence that will replace the thunderous evening chorus of amphibians’ calls is bad enough. Even worse is that with the loss of those species, we will lose so many cures for so many things. And it is worse still to imagine what losing half of the world’s species of amphibians may mean as we struggle to keep our living airplane from disintegrating.
When I studied biology in high school, I had a delightful mental image of those Kings Playing Chess while sitting On those Fancy Glass Stools. Now it turns out that we are very much like those kings: idling away our time when we should be responding to a horrible threat to our kingdom.
It is not too late to save many — perhaps most, maybe even all — of the amphibians. They are comparatively easy to find and keep healthy in zoos and aquariums until it’s safe to release them back into the wild.
The Saint Louis Zoo, for example, has returned thousands of Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to the pools of their homeland. We also are working in Ecuador to create a survival center in Quito, and we have teamed up with other zoos to create a survival center in rural Georgia for amphibians of North America.
And right here, at one of the centers of the zoo’s WildCare Institute, we are working to save Missouri’s rapidly declining population of hellbender salamanders.
In this struggle, time is short, and we need your awareness and support. Call us at the Zoo, and we’ll tell you how you can help.
Jeffrey P. Bonner is president and chief executive of the St. Louis Zoo.
Republished with the permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Courtesy of STLtoday.com

The St. Louis Zoo (in Missouri in the United States, and a leader in helping to save the endangered Ozark Hellbender salamander) just posted these details of its leapfrog event on New Year’s Eve, all aimed at ringing in The Year of the Frog:

The Saint Louis Zoo and zoos around the world are inviting children and their families to join in a game of leapfrog on New Year’s Eve to ring in the special year and draw attention to conservation efforts that would avert the disaster.
Amphibian Activities
From 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., kids can participate in a variety of frog-related activities in The Living World.
  • Slimy Singers — Join in a chorus using a variety of noise-makers to imitate frog calls and learn to identify common local frogs by their songs.
  • Happy Hoppers — Test your jumping abilities to see if you can jump as far as your froggy friends.
  • Froggy Faces — Make frog-tastic masks to take home.
Leapfrog teams will be formed starting at 10:45 a.m. and the worldwide game of leapfrog starts at 11 a.m.

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