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.

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.

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.

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.

Rabb's fringe-limbed tree frog

Rabb's fringe-limbed tree frog. Photo: Brad Wilson.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just released its 2009 Red List, and it includes over 17,000 species that are currently threatened by extinctin. The Red List is a comprehensive, global approach for evaluating the conservation status of animal and plant species. This method of evaluation began in 1994, and forthcoming Red List workshops will now include the Amphibian Ark’s Conservation Needs Assessment process to evaluate and prioritize amphibians for the specific conservation needs.

The 2009 list contains 1,895 amphibian species that are threatened due to deforestation, climate change, disease and other factors.

The Kihansi spray toad of southern Tanzania is now thought to be extinct in the wild. A dam upstream of Kihansi Falls has dried up the gorge where it lived, and an aggressive fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis appears to have pushed the toad population over the edge, the group said.

The same fate could soon befall the unusually large Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog, which glides through the forest using its big webbed feet to steer safely to the ground. It is the only known frog species where the tadpoles feed off skin shed by the male while he guards the young.

The chytrid fungus that causes chytridiomycosis reached central Panama in 2006, a year after scientists first discovered the tree frog. Since then the fungus — believed to be spread by international trade and global warming — has virtually wiped out the wild frog population.

Click here for the full article about the 2009 Red List update.

Last week, I was thrilled to be working with Dr. Roberto Ibanez from the Smithsonian Institute and Heidi Ross and Edgardo Griffith, from the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, to administer a three-day husbandry essentials workshop in El Valle de Anton, Panama.

Consulting instructors Allan Pessier (San Diego Zoo), Brad Wilson (Veterinarian, Atlanta), Robert Hill (Atlanta Botanical Garden) and Joe Mendelson (Zoo Atlanta) also attended and participated in lectures and hand’s on demonstrations aimed at training staff and students in the essential husbandry techniques for maintaining assurance populations of endangered amphibians at facilities in Panama.

The collaborative efforts of the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (www.amphibianrescue.org) being launched at the Summit Zoo outside of Panama city aims to rescue dozens of species utilizing biosecure shipping containers and down the line to provide animals for important chytrid research in situ. Working at this facility, some of the students participating in this workshop will become the next stewards of panamanian amphibians.

Scientists have unravelled the mechanism by which the fungal disease chytridiomycosis kills its victims.

The BBC reports that a group of scientists has published an article in the journal Science that chytrid fungus kills by changing the electrolyte balance of animals, resulting in cardiac arrest. Chytrid, which was discovered in 1998, is one of the major killers of amphibians across the globe, along with habitat destruction and climate change. Curing amphibians in captivity can now be done using antifungal chemicals, but there is currently no way of treating the disease in wild populations.

If scientists can now discover more about how the elctrolyte balance is disrupted, they may also ultimately, discover a way to reduce the mortality rate in wild amphibian populations.

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