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.