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?