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.

The Kihansi spray toad used to live in the spray region of the Kihansi waterfall, in Tanzania, and relied heavily on the spray from the waterfall to maintain a constant temperature and humidity in its environment. But due to the construction of a dam which funded by the World Bank, the waterfall has been disrupted, and the Kihansi spray toad has recently been declared Extinct in the Wild.

A number of small populations of this species exist in US zoos, and in spit of several setbacks with the initial population of 500 animals that were collected, the current population now sits at around 470 animals.

How many more species will become extinct in the wild, relying entirely on ex situ “ark” populations for their survival, before we start to take better care of our planet and ALL of its inhabitants?

More information on the Kihansi spray toad can be found here.

Bakersfield, Californian columnist Valerie Schultz  has written a column about the amphibian crisis and Amphibian Ark that also asks: why do so many of us smile at the word “frog” but change expressions at the word “toad”?

“To my amazement, it turns out that all toads actually are frogs. The toads just have stubbier bodies, shorter hind legs, and warty, dry skin. Toads are like the ugly sisters of the amphibian family. They suffer in comparison to their frog siblings, who steal the family show with their lovely webbed feet, their smooth skin, their prominent eyes, and their leaping legs. Among humans, toads also have a less pleasant reputation than frogs. The connotation of the word ‘toad’ is something sluggish and unattractive.”

“In the human world, a person who is a ‘toady’ grovels to please others. If someone ever describes you as a toad, you might want to think about an extreme makeover.”

Thank goodness this blog is more enlightened and is giving the toad its due — but wait a minute. I just glanced at previous posts on this blog, and found only 14 that mention toads vs. about 100 that  mention frogs. That’s just not right!

The toads definitely need an image consultant. We will try to be more balanced moving forward. Sorry about that, all you toads.

Story out of California regarding captive breeding reports that following the California wildfires, the Arroyo toad is missing from 75 percent of the habitat where it’s normally found. This is the type of situation that the network of zoos, aquariums, and conservation groups with Amphibian Ark studies. A while back, a post here mentioned that the Arroyo toad is typically resilient to wildfires. Yet, the Arroyo toad — Bufo californicus — is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

We’re only weeks away from 2008 The Year of the Frog! Here’s a video, created by the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Auburn Career Center, that features “kids telling kids” about the amphibian crisis — what’s happening, and why, and most important, what kids can do about it. Kudos to the folks in Cleveland for making this video.

Amphibian Ark has started providing me with lists of the species most in need of being placed in protective custody — meaning, they can’t be saved in the wild and need to be placed with zoos and other host locations before they disappear. Here’s the first installment — the European “highest priority” list.

As funds become available, the species listed below will be among the first to hop onto the Ark. Click on the species name and you’ll go to a page that tells more. 


Neurergus kaiseri (Luristan newt) — Iran
Rana cf. holzi (Taurus frog) — Turkey
Alytes muletensis (Mallorcan midwife toad)– Spain
Neurergus microspilotus (salamander) — Iran/Iraq/Turkey border
Batrachuperus gorganensis (Gorgan salamander) — Iran
Liciasalamandra billae (salamander) — Turkey
Pelobates varaldii (Varaldi’s spadefoot toad)  – Morocco
Euproctus platycephalus (Sardinian brook salamander) – Italy
Proteus anguinus parkelj (Black olm) — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia
Discoglossus montalenti (Corsican painted frog) — Corsica

Once in their biosecure facility, their new home, the species will be bred under the care of experts. Amphibian Ark falls under the auspices of the IUCN Amphibian Conservation Action Plan, so as each species multiplies, the root problems for its near extinction will be analyzed by a bigger scientific team, hopefully resulting in breakthroughs so that the species can return to the wild.

Didn’t want to end the day on the tone of that last post. Enjoy this story of high school sweethearts who went on to become research biologists, get married (althought I’m not sure it was in that order) and, today, track frogs in Alabama.  They’re studying the effects of the practice of controlled burns (of forest land) on amphibian and reptile life. Insert “burning love” pun here. 

There are, arguably, three great questions about the amphibian crisis. The good news is that all are being researched.

  1. How can we slow down, even neutralize, the ravage of species caused by amphibian chytrid fungus? This naturally occurring fungus broke out of Africa 60-or-so years ago on the backs and littled webbed feet of the African Clawed Frog which was being exported as a human pregnancy test. It’s lethal to most species it contacts, resulting in a thinning of frog families to the  point that the few remaining males and females can’t find each other to mate.
  2. What is the cause-and-effect of global warming on this mass extinction? If chytrid is the cryptonite to frogs, are warmer temperatures a steroid shot for chytrid? Or, are amphibians just getting worn out by the heat and, in such a weakened state, more susceptible to all sorts of diseases and enemies?
  3. What happens to ecosystems when amphibians disappear because of #1 and #2? In other words, what is the role of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians in the food web? When you remove them from an acre of rainforest, or a bubbling brook, what happens to the populations of insects, fish, snakes, lizards, birds. What happens to plant life? Answer this, definitively, and just watch the funds for Amphibian Ark and the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan roll in from foundations and companies that care about general conservation and hunting and fishing. 

(The effects of pollution is probably the fourth big question, I know, but so much has already been figured out about that.)

Let me introduce the research team (the only team?) that is studying The Big Three Questions. The team is led by Karen Lips, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at Southern Illinois University (SIU Carbondale). She charted the path that chytrid has cut through Central America and presented her insights about the fungus at the recently convened chytrid conference in Tempe, Arizona.  Next summer the team resumes studying climate change impacts, and they’ll even safely remove amphibian species from small ecosystems to chronicle what happens to the food web. Here’s her Web page that toplines some of her research

Sometimes you read something so bizarre, you withhold comment and just let people read and judge for themselves. Here’s the story. You can’t make this stuff up. Hey, bufo marinus, you’re giving amphibians a bad name.

There is a video link on this story from the Beaumont Enterprise that takes you to a late October public presentation by Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet and CNN Planet in Peril fame (in which he shares host duties with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In this video, he co-stars with a rococo toad (the world’s largest toad species) to get people thinking in a new way about amphibians and other threatened wildlife. 

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