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?

A recent announcement of plans to publish a call for comments on how to regulate and reduce disease spread through the amphibian trade has been met with a lot of speculation and worry. We have put together a Fact Sheet on the subject that explains how this came to be, what is currently going on and how interested folks can have their voices heard. It can be found at: http://www.amphibianark.org/pdf/US_amphibian_trade_proposal.pdf

Taking 5 minutes to read this attachment carefully and I would bet a clearer, calmer picture lies ahead!

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.

One of the first Chilean Darwin's Frogs born in captivity in Concepcion, Chile. December 2009

With Marcela Sepulveda Tirado of Santiago’s National Zoo, I traveled to Concepción, Chile andvisited the ex situ facility for Darwin’s Frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii) in September 2009 to find Carlos Barrientos Donoso and his advisor Professor Juan Carlos Ortiz carefully watching over 11 Darwin’s frogs and receiving advice from Dr. Klaus Busse of the Bonn Museum in Germany. This ex situ breeding project, a joint effort of the Universidad de Concepción and Leipzig Zoo is focused on preserving this amazing frog within it’s range country. The frogs appeared to be doing very well under their care and we observed courtship activities that very day. Later in the year, I was informed that the frogs had bred and there were males holding developing froglets in their vocal sacs. Frank Oberwemmer, Conservation Officer for Leipzig Zoo informed me recently that beginning on Christmas eve, December 24, 2009 and ending December 31, 2009,  13 tiny Darwin’s Frogs were born!  They are now (February 21) up to 17 mm long and doing quite well! This represents the first captive breeding of this uniquely Chilean species in range country! Congratulations are definitely in order! I am certain that Marcela and team in Santiago will be next to breed this unique amphibian and soon will have tiny Darwin’s frogs to look after in their facility!  (Actually, the range of Rhinoderma does slip into Argentina too!)  Thanks to Frank for the heads up!

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