amphibian conservation action plan just posted a powerful update on the chytrid fungus’ connection to global warming, but what I find most interesting is how Mr. Butler summarizes the amphibian crisis. This is a great primer as well as refresher course:

“The Global Amphibian Assessment reports that nearly one third of all species (32%) are threatened, with 42% having declined since the 1980s. As many as 165 species are thought to have become extinct during the past thirty years. Calculations comparing current extinction rates of amphibians to background, or normal, extinction rates have yielded a current rate that is 211 times larger than background rates. When endangered species are included in the calculation, the result is expanded to 25,039–45,474 times that of background extinction rates.

“Amphibian declines have grown so severe that in February 16th, 2007, scientists from all over the world met in Atlanta, GA, to form the Amphibian Ark, a group dedicated to the preservation of more than 6,000 species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians (a group of subterrestrial wormlike amphibians). Their aim is mainly concerned with implementing captive breeding programs to safeguard the most threatened species.

“Along with providing a vital loss to biodiversity, amphibian declines foreshadow problems that other organisms may experience in the future. Amphibians are an important “index” group; the health of individual species serves as a powerful indicator of the health of an entire ecosystem. Scientists believe that what is happening to amphibians now will someday happen to other organisms, including humans.”


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?

It was so cold there were snow flurries. But that didn’t prevent these children, their parents, and Asa Zoo from ringing in the Year of the Frog in Hiroshima. Lots of other visuals from the global leapfrog day are on previous post.

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.

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.

Enjoy the U.S. holiday weekend, and if you’re new to this topic, spend 15 minutes here and you’ll be mostly up to speed on the amphibian crisis.

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