A solid story on Amphibian Ark and the crisis from the city of Johannesburg’s Web site. Nice to see the global collaboration with quotes from the CEOs of zoos (Johannesburg and St. Louis) that are 14,153 kilometers separated from one another. Here’s an excerpt:

The mass extinction of amphibian species would be catastrophic, say the experts, who are calling on all people to help save frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians.

A THIRD to a half of all amphibian species is in danger of disappearing in our lifetime, says Steven van der Spuy, the chief executive officer of the Johannesburg Zoo.

Amphibians, which act as bio-indicators, are listed as threatened; their potential mass extinction could be the most cataclysmic since the dinosaur era. But the Amphibian Ark is racing to the rescue, partnering the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group.

 The SSC is the Species Survival Commission; it is a unit of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, based in Switzerland.

Having declared 2008 the Year of the Frog, the Amphibian Ark and its partners are working to raise awareness crucial to the survival of amphibians, and to draw attention to conservation efforts. Calls are being made to the public, the United Nations, governments, international organisations and world zoos to team up to save the species.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 1 856 of the 5 743 known amphibian species – almost one in three – are threatened with extinction. “The [Johannesburg Zoo] has made resources and space available for the captive propagation of these frogs,” Van der Spuy notes.

Amphibian species in the city have declined markedly in recent years, mainly because of the destruction and degradation of their habitats – mostly wetlands – for the construction of residential developments.

Read, learn, enjoy this new AP story. And also here is link to the auction page.

Conservationists auction off frog naming rights/Associated Press

 A girl has to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, but how to interpret the gesture when the prince makes a bid to name a frog in her honor?

That’s one possible scenario, thanks to a new online auction allowing a high bidder to win the right to name a frog species.

Amphibian Ark, an international collaboration of conservationists working to save frogs, is organizing the effort to auction the naming rights to five species of frogs on the Internet – one frog a month for five months.

Profits will fund efforts to protect frogs at a crucial time, said Kevin Zippel, Amphibian Ark’s program director. Amphibians have been on the planet for 360 million years, but based on recent science, “This is the greatest extinction rate they’ve ever faced,” he said.

The first frog that a member of the public can name – for the right price – is from Ecuador, a member of the Osornophryne genus.

The frog was discovered in 1997, and there are no living members of the species in captivity, but whoever wins the online auction will be able to determine its species name. The profits raised will go to fund work to save frogs in Ecuador. Details on the other four frogs, and where the money will go to protect frogs, have not yet been released.

The hope is that auctioning off the naming rights could raise between $100,000 to $200,000 for each of the five frogs.

The estimate is based on prices paid in the past in separate efforts for the rights to name animals, like the $650,000 an Internet casino paid in 2005 to name a monkey species for the benefit of a national park in Bolivia. Its moniker? GoldenPalace.com.

“The potential to raise money to save these species outweighed any criticism we might get that we’re selling out,” said Zippel, speaking by telephone from Auburn, N.Y., where he lives.

A description of the new species will be published in a professional journal, and its scientific name will need to conform to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Zippel offered an example: If Donald Trump were a winning bidder of a frog from Rana genus, it wouldn’t be named “Rana Donald Trump,” but “Rana donaldtrumpi.”

The Internet naming contest at http://www.amphibianark.org/ is just one of many ways Amphibian Ark is trying to raise awareness about the plight of the frog. The group has dubbed 2008 the “Year of the Frog,” with zoos and other organizations around the world holding events to educate about the threats frogs are facing.

From one-third to one-half of the planet’s amphibian species are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, over collection and disease, including a fatal fungus.

Scientists say they have to figure out a way to rid the environment of chytrid fungus or help frogs develop a resistance. The frogs can be cured with a fungicide, but they’ll be affected again upon re-entry.

Amphibian Ark wants 500 frogs from 500 species to be held in biosecure facilities around the world. Jeffrey Bonner, president of the Saint Louis Zoo and Amphibian Ark’s immediate past chair, called the effort “protective custody for frogs.”

Profits from the auction of the first frog will be donated to the lab of Dr. Luis Coloma in Ecuador for frog conservation work.

Researchers don’t know if they’ll be able to save the frog whose naming rights are being auctioned. That’s because they don’t know how many are still in the wild.

But, Zippel said, the funds will go to study how many of those frogs remain in the field and to help efforts to conserve it and other frogs in Ecuador.

Bonner called the online auction “just lovely.” He said, “It’s such a wonderful idea. I hope it works.” If $500,000 were raised, “we could save a lot of animals,” he said.

Amphibian Ark is a partnership between the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Conservation Union.

St. Louis Zoo chief Jefrrey Bonner has some one-on-one time with Kermit when the Assocation of Zoos & Aquariums brought the duo to the U.S. Capitol building to lobby for amphibian protection measures.

Our sex life started destroying amphibians when we exported the African clawed frog as a pregnancy test in the 1930s. A half century later, our use of the pill started changing the gender of frogs and salamanders. Read on…

The St. Louis Zoo’s Jeffrey Bonner (who also is chairman of Amphibian Ark) has written another very original article on the amphibian crisis,in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In this one he makes a connection between the spread of pollen (“the sex life of trees”) and the spread of the frog killing chytrid fungus (ultimately connected to the sex life of humans). It’s a fascinating observation, one I’ve not read before. The excerpt:

Several years ago, I attended a seminar in Washington. It was spring — cherry blossom time. I was sneezing like crazy. Our speaker also had allergies, and he apologized for his sniffles. Being a biologist, he explained it this way, “Sorry for all the sneezing. It seems I’ve become an inadvertent participant in the sex life of trees.” He was right, of course. We sneeze because we have an immune reaction to the pollen, or sex cells, which trees spread in the spring.

If frogs could speak, perhaps they’d say the same thing about amphibian chytrid. It would have taken forever for chytrid to spread out of South Africa had it not been for the actions of humans, harvesting infected frogs and air-mailing them around the planet for pregnancy tests. The frogs, it would seem, were an inadvertent participant in the sex lives of humans.

We can allow hundreds of amphibian species to face quietly into oblivion, or we can take action now to spare their lives. I hope the choice we make is the humane one.

Jeffrey Bonner is president of the St. Louis Zoo. He also is the chairman of the Amphibian Ark, the global effort to save 500 critically endangered species and place them in “protective custody” in zoos and aquariums around the world. 

Interestingly, Dr. Bonner earlier had written about modern birth control pills and their impact on amphibians — i.e., the heightened estrogen levels in our urine is reaching streams and deforming species. That story was extremely interesting, as well. In it, he wrote:

Of equal concern is many of the common drugs we consume. Their contents pass through our bodies, into sewage treatment plants and back into our rivers and streams. Estrogen, the active ingredient in many birth control pills, is one of these. In frogs, low levels of estrogen cause exposed tadpoles to become female; under normal conditions, half develop female and half develop male.

 

 

Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, CEO of the St. Louis Zoo, was published in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article Saturday that connects the endangered Hellbender salamander’s reproductive problem to something in the water that also may be lowering the sperm count of men living around the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the middle of the United States. Fascinating read. Here’s link to story, and here are excerpts:

About 12 years ago, scientists realized that our native hellbenders had virtually stopped reproducing. The mature ones were doing fine, but offspring were not being born in substantial numbers. In laboratory tests, trace amounts of herbicides (which are present in the bodies of rural Missouri men) can cause male frogs to turn into hermaphrodites, creatures with male and female sex organs. Worse, the herbicides can cause those changes at concentrations of about one-tenth of a part per billion — 30 times lower than those deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Of equal concern is many of the common drugs we consume. Their contents pass through our bodies, into sewage treatment plants and back into our rivers and streams. Estrogen, the active ingredient in many birth control pills, is one of these. In frogs, low levels of estrogen cause exposed tadpoles to become female; under normal conditions, half develop female and half develop male.

The article explains what may be happening as we go to the bathroom near Missouri’s streams, which are popular places for canoeing. But how does what’s in the water affect us, directly?

In 2003, the authors of a study of Missouri men found a strong link between trace amounts of herbicides in the men’s urine and the quality of their semen. The authors concluded that men were exposed to the herbicides through public drinking water. We need to pay much more attention to what we’re putting into our water, whether they be small streams or mighty rivers. We need to be careful of how we dispose of our waste oil, paint and solvents, careful of how much water we consume, careful to practice the best agricultural practices possible. We need to consider that a tiny bit of something that someone has poured (or excreted) into the water upstream can easily enter our bodies. And a tiny bit of something we put in our water can be ingested by someone in New Orleans.

2007 was an eye opening year. If you’d asked me what a herpetologist was a year earlier, I might have guessed it was an expert on STDs.  But through my communications work with Amphibian Ark, I’ve gotten to know, and admire, amphibian experts from around the world. Learning about their work is for me perhaps as fascinating as studying frogs is for them.

What I see in these scientists is disciplined passion and concern about the complex and delicate creatures that are widely regarded as our canaries in the coal mine. They have a plan to save the frog. Like a MacGiver episode, it involves a peculiar list of borrowed items, among them: containers like those that stack on top of ocean going ships — each container to be retrofitted into three compartments, each compartment to house an amphibian species that otherwise would disappear; bottles of Clorox — to keep rescue missions from accidentally bringing back the killer frog fungus Chytrid; petri dishes, cotton swabs, and microscopes; and scientists around the globe comparing notes, discoveries, and breakthroughs on their laptops and cell phones.

The facts of the amphibian crisis are well documented (and if you’re new to all of this, go to this entry). So, beyond the herpetologists and the facts, I learned, among other things, that:

  • This is a movement with thousands driving it. It’s been gratifying to see zoos and conservation departments around the world educating the public about the crisis. There are champions for this cause in Sri Lanka, Hiroshima, Bogota, Sydney, Wichita, Jacksonville, Johannesburg, London, the Bronx, Washington DC, Leipzig, the foothills of the Himalayas, Mexico, Toronto, India, St. Louis, Moscow. (I look at the support coming from these cities, countries, and regions, and have to remark: how can this fail? The plan for averting the mass extinction is solid and credible, and the movement is global. Almost all the pieces are in place, except for the money. But that, too, will come.)
  • It’s a movement with strong leadership. There is a network of scientists directing the physical plan of Amphibian Ark. They are supported by essentially every accredited zoo and aquarium in the world. A who’s who list of conservation and nature authorities is making news for the crisis — Sir David Attenborough and Jeff Corwin, for starters. Jean-Michel Cousteau is jumping in.
  • It’s a big challenge to convince corporations and philanthropists and governments that saving frogs and guarding the environment are two sides of the same coin. Corporations are going green, but the focus is on climate change and too often to the exclusion of the fragile creatures that are the first to suffer its effects. The biodiversity camp needs to become as skilled at framing its story as The Inconvenient Truth camp led by Al Gore and the IPPC.

 I recall an early meeting with Jeffrey Bonner of the St. Louis Zoo. He said, back in the summer of 2007, that building momentum for Amphibian Ark at that point was like “building an airplane while it’s taking off.” To continue that metaphor, the airplane today has gained altitude as a critical mass of support is catching up to the Amphibian Ark plan. Now it’s a matter of fuel — can we supply this airplane with the fuel it needs to climb higher and accomplish its mission?

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.

sir-david-with-zsl-frog-statue.jpg

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.)

bangladesh-12-31.jpg

living-desert-leapfrog-12-31.jpg

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.

st-louis-leapfrog-ksdk-12-31.jpg

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.

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

Jeff Corwin was huge today for Amphibian Ark. On “Ellen” this afternoon, he showed a Panama Golden Frog — extinct in the wild, but brought to the show courtesy of the St. Louis Zoo — and explained how chytrid fungus is killing off amphibian species.  He encouraged viewers to go to www.amphibianark.org (yes, he spelled out the url!) to learn how to help.  He offered to let Ellen hold the toad, but she said she didn’t want to be responsible for losing “the last frog.” A “golden” moment for the cause. 

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