Year of the Frog

Amphibian Ark has recapped highlights of the year of the frog in a newsletter I just received. Am pasting it below for any of you not on the email list:

The end of the Year of the Frog…the beginning of the Decade of the Amphibian?

By Kevin Zippel, Kevin Johnson, Lesley Dickie, Elizabeth Townsend

Some of our favourite activities include:

  • Global Leap Frog. On New Year’s Eve 2007, thirty-three zoos in seventeen countries around the world participated in a synchronized Leap Frog event to ring in the Year of the Frog.
  • The rockin’ launch party in Indonesia. Taman Safari’s YOTF launch party attracted a couple thousand people and included a rock concert and fireworks.

  • Kermit on capital hill and in space. Not only did Kermit the Frog lobby for his kin on capital hill 11th March 2008 he flew on the 122nd flight of the Space Shuttle to raise awareness for amphibians.

  • JAZA embraced the Year of the Frog. JAZA’s Year of the Frog campaign, was promoted in 45 institutions throughout Japan, including zoos, aquariums and museums.
  • Snow sculptures at Perm Zoo. The Perm Zoo of Russia launched YOTF by taking advantage of an abundant local resource – snow! – that they sculpted into giant amphibians.

  • Amphibious nuptials on Leap Day. On 29 February 2008 (Leap Day!), Nick and Sue Pinder of Curraghs Wildlife Park in the UK got married and asked all of their guests to donate to AArk in lieu of giving them gifts.

  • Frog’s Leap Bridge. Edinburgh Zoo’s Polly Philpot dressed up like a frog and rappelled down the 4th bridge to raise awareness and money.

  • Vancouver’s clever poster. Our friends at the Vancouver Aquarium created a very clever poster to help the public visualize a world without amphibians.
  • Durrell’s Frog Prince pantomime. In January 2008, staff at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey put on a unique pantomime called “The Frog Prince – a pantomime with a hoppy ending”, in support of the EAZA amphibian campaign. The pantomime combined elements of the traditional fairy tale with conservation messaging to create a fun show for the whole family to enjoy.
  • Our princess patrons. We were thrilled to share the company of two real-life princesses: Princess Xenia of Saxony thrilled children by kissing a (fake) frog at an event at Leipzig Zoo, and the Crown Princess of Sweden helped launch the opening of a wetland exhibit at Nordens Ark.

  • SAZARC and signatures. Thanks to Sally Walker and her team, India contributed more signatures to our global signature campaign than the rest of the world combined.
  • Albuquerque’s Halloween party. With frogs as a central theme, Albuquerque Biological Park hosted 14,000 people at their 20th annual Zoo Boo event.

  • Johannesburg’s Christmas party. A group of 200 underprivileged children from three of Joburg’s hospices will be brought to the zoo for presents and a tour with the 2008 Miss World contestants.
  • Little boys and girls. It’s not just zoo people getting excited about amphibians. Joseph Miscimara of Chicago, IL, USA told guests invited to his 9th birthday party to make donations to AArk in lieu of bringing gifts.

    Twelve-year-old Samara Nicolson of Queensland started her own newsletter to raise awareness locally (and globally!) about her beloved amphibians.

    The second graders from Tremont Elementary School in Ohio held a read-a-thon and craft fair to raise funds for AArk, and for Halloween they all dressed as frogs for their school’s Halloween parade (see article from Tremont Elementary School students).

  • At their recent conference in Memphis, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) organized a dinner and silent auction to benefit AArk and NABT with AArk patron Jean-Michel Cousteau as the featured speaker.
  • We helped generate countless articles, including 2,000 local stories in just the past six months. The advertising equivalent value of our efforts was nearly $1 million!
  • On 20th November, Animal Planet debuted Jeff Cowin’s new documentary “The Vanishing Frog” which highlighted AArk and our partners’ projects from all around the world. The documentary was sponsored by our partner Clorox.
  • On 20th-21st November, the Zoological Society of London hosted a symposium “Halting the Global Decline in Amphibians” with keynote delivered by YOTF patron Sir David Attenborough. The event was funded by ZSL, WCS, and WT Partnership (see separate article in this newsletter).
    Building capacity – AArk partners report successes:
  • Eighty-five new rescue populations.
  • Fifteen new biosecure areas with 100 in planning.

  • $4.4 million spent on captive programs with $12.1 million in the next five years.
  • $868,000 spent on fieldwork with $2.1 million in the next five years.
  • Ten prioritization workshops.
  • Eleven training workshops.
  • Two new AArk advisory groups (Taxon Management and Cryobiology).
  • Our naming auctions raised $23,000 for fieldwork in Venezuela.
  • Our partners The Amphibian Project raised ~$25,000 in YOTF calendar sales for the Critically Endangered Large-crested Toad Ollotis cristata.

  • EAZA members collectively raised $600,000.
  • JAZA and ARAZPA followed with $20,000 each!.
    Although the YOTF awareness campaign does end with 2008 (more or less, some regions are continuing into the first quarter of 2009), our work is only just beginning. The next challenge is to translate the heightened awareness into action, specifically, fundraising and rescuing! Please don’t stop your excellent work now. If we can sustain our momentum, together we can turn 2008-2017 into the Decade of the Amphibian and save as many of those 500 imperilled amphibians as possible. Thanks!

    Kudos to Dallas Zoo for this video that captures the key information.

    Sometimes (OK, often) Peta takes stances against zoos. Zoos are integral to the campaign to avert the mass extinction of amphibians, so this blog is pro zoos. But Peta has inspired a 19-year-old to change her name to Cutout to draw attention to Peta’s fight against frog dissections. Story here.  If only Amphibian Ark could inspire people to change their names to Amphibian Ark. Or, Amphiby N. Ark. Or, Year of the Frog. Something like that. To the young woman named Cutout (nee Jennifer Thornburg), I want you to know that I signed the Peta petition you wanted me to. Now, would you sign the Amphibian Ark petition to urge governments to rally to protect endangered amphibian species? You see, from one-third to one-half of the 6,000-or-so amphibian species will go extinct in our lifetime unless emergency measures are taken. Amphibians are earth’s canaries in the coal mine, warning us of changes in our environment that are growing worse and will one day affect humans. Please go to the Amphibian Ark petition here. Thanks.

    The BBC just filed a report (click here) with some meaty information about the amphibian crisis I hadn’t read before. Environmental correspondent Richard Black interviewed leading conservationists at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona. Apparently, it was a good opportunity for everyone to take inventory on what has transpired in this “year of the frog.” Excerpts:

    This World Conservation Congress saw the release of another Red List. So how did amphibians fare this time around?

    “In the intervening four years, we’ve had 366 species added to the Red List,” says Mike Hoffman, who recently helped co-ordinate Threatened Amphibians of the World, the vast, glossy, information-packed book that CI has just brought out.

    Here at the World Conservation Congress are many of the scientists who were present that sunny Washington morning and released their prescription for salvation, the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. So three years on, it is time to ask: how are you doing? First, the money; did it show up?

    “It’s hard to say, because there have been a lot of other initiatives as well such as Amphibian Ark, which has a lot of facilities,” says Claude Gascon, co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Amphibian Specialist Group and a senior scientist with Conservation International (CI).

    “But from our perspective we’ve probably had about $10m which has gone directly into tip-of-the-iceberg sites that have been very important for conserving the last of a species.”

    Keeping alive all the species we know about, let alone the ones we have yet to discover, is a daunting task, even given the resources that have been mobilised since the launch of the amphibian rescue plan three years ago. But, says Claude Gascon, we have to try.

    “I would argue that the story of amphibians is the story of humans. If we don’t get amphibians sorted, the next batch to go extinct may be primates.”

    As he winds down an historic broadcasting career (but never confessing to slowing down), Sir David Attenborough, patron of Amphibian Ark, remains the best publicist amphibians could ever have. In this most recent newspaper interview, his anecdotes skew toward stories of amphibians. Excerpts:

    “Even in the last series I did there is a frog which is not around in the wild any more. Soon my films will be more of an archive of animals which once lived.”

    “There is a frog in Patagonia that fertilises its eggs in the male’s throat pouch. The female lays it and the male keeps it in its throat while it turns from a tadpole into a frog. Scientists knew this happened but nobody had ever seen the moment the little frog leapt out of his parent’s mouth. We took some frogs and created a special environment for them in Bristol. A cameraman and his assistants kept a 24-hour watch as the tadpole developed. After waiting for 100 hours the cameraman went for a quick pee – and when he dashed back the little frog was sitting there next to its dad. They were gutted. Eventually we did manage to capture the moment.”

    Here is a photo from earlier this year capturing Sir David making time for a photo opp for Amphibian Ark during 2008 the year of the frog.


     As reported around the world this week, Pope Benedict XVI has criticized the display of a sculpture by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger in a Bolzano, Italy, museum. The art was intended to convey the angst of the artist (who is described as “tortured”) and apparently not a shot at religion. In this Year of the Frog, as we draw attention to the fact that up to half of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are heading toward extinction, one can draw other meanings from this art. Learn more about Amphibian Ark’s mission here.

    The United States’ frogs appear to be shrugging off a biologically insensitive comment yesterday by U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. According to ABC News, Senator Clinton used the aphorism, “you can’t tell how far a frog will jump until you punch him,” to describe the resolve of her campaign.

    Even when reminded that the candidate mentioned boiling frogs on New Year’s Day (with video) in a speech in Iowa — on the same day that kicked off the year of the frog to draw attention to the amphibian mass-extinction crisis – frogs say they hold no grudge. They cite the reservoir of good will on environmental issues such as clean water that Senator Clinton has built up over the years. Clean water is a core value of the amphibian constituency.

    Of course, amphibians have been mentioned before in this presidential race. There is a Web site that uses a cartoon frog to encourage us to place the candidates in a blender

    U.S. frogs have historically shown great patience during such campaigns — unlike the temperament of amphibian species in other parts of the world. Politicians rarely mention frogs in speeches in Cameroon, for example, where the wolverine frog is known to whip out claw-like bones from under its skin when annoyed. 

    Jeremy Elton Jacquot just posted this on TreeHugger

    With the hot summer months fast approaching, Amphibian Ark, the international organization helping to keep endangered amphibian species afloat (whose efforts we profiled here), needs your help now more than ever. They’ve just embarked on an ambitious new grassroots initiative, called “5 for frogs,” to get more people involved with their efforts and raise awareness; it’s part of their broader “50 ways to save amphibians” initiative.

    Like many of their endangered brethren, a large proportion of amphibian species, whose natural habitats have been especially impacted by the anthropogenic activities and global warming, could go extinct over the coming years — perhaps up to 50% of them. Recently, they teamed up with the Amphibian Project, a like-minded outfit, to organize a fund-raising drive meant to help save the Large-crested toad (i.e. Bufo cristatus for the science buffs in the audience), one of the planet’s most endangered amphibians.

    Jeff Corwin and Jean-Michel Cousteau … have also lent their considerable imprimatur to help support AArk’s first frog naming-rights auction, which will end on May 31. The winning bidder will win the naming rights to a newly discovered “walking frog” species, indigenous to the Andes Mountains in Ecuador.

    So, please: get involved — picking even one of the “50 ways to save amphibians” will make a big difference — and help make this the year we save amphibians from the brink of extinction.

    What a thorough, great article on Amphibian Ark in today’s Washington Post! The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington and the Bronx Zoo in NYC are doing terrific work to save the Panamanian golden frog and Kihansi spray toad, respectively. Story here. Excerpts:

    With thousands of amphibian species facing unprecedented threats to their survival, scientists have launched a global effort to collect them in zoos in an attempt to save them from disappearing altogether. Named Amphibian Ark, the program aims to keep 500 species in captivity and breed enough to eventually reintroduce them into the wild.

    “In terms of scope, I think this is the biggest conservation project that humanity has ever tried to tackle,” said Kevin Zippel, the program’s director, who said the initiative is testing zoos’ ability to raise and maintain animals with specialized needs. “In the course of the last four years, we’ve realized how badly off amphibians are,” he said.

    Scientists have been tracking the rapid disappearance of amphibians for two decades, but new evidence suggests the animals face increasingly grave peril. A third to a half of all amphibians are now threatened with extinction; 165 species have already vanished. In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, three of every four amphibian species are critically endangered.

    Climate change is altering many habitats, forcing some species to move to ever higher elevations to survive. Increased traffic poses a problem when the creatures migrate across roadways. A recent survey of Indiana highways, reported in the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology, found that amphibians and reptiles accounted for 95 percent of roadkill. In Appalachia, mountaintop-removal mining threatens several species of salamanders, which can take 70 years to recover from such drastic disruptions.

    Perhaps more important, however, may be the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which researchers say has caused amphibian populations to plummet in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.

    The Bronx Zoo’s Kihansi spray toads fell prey to several pressures, including habitat destruction and, most likely, the fungus and pesticides. Their natural habitat encompasses just 10 acres in the Kihansi River gorge. In 2000, a World Bank-funded dam diverted 90 percent of the flow that sustained the toads, and their numbers started dropping precipitously.

    Saturday’s FrogWatch event organized by the National Wildlife Federation and supported by the National Association of Biology Teachers got a good writeup in the Chicago Tribune today. I learned in the story that the volunteer frog watchers in Illinois helped find a species that was believed to have disappeared from the Midwest. Excerpt:

    He credits the frog monitors with alerting environmentalists to the disappearance — and apparent re-emergence — of cricket frogs in northern Illinois. Within the past few years, the monitors have discovered cricket frogs despite prior reports that they had vanished from the Midwest.

    “There’s nowhere near enough professional biologists to collect that data,” Redmer said. “The volunteers are contributing a huge amount of their time to this.”

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