A Yellow-spotted Bell Frog. Photo: Michael McFadden

Some great news was reported during the past week here in Australia – the rediscovery after 30 years of the Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea). Researchers from the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water confirmed the sighting of the species in the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney.

Six tadpoles have been collected and have been taken to Taronga Zoo, where they will form the founders of what zoo staff hope will be a successful breeding program, eventuating in the release of captive-bred animals back to the wild. Taronga Zoo staff have been involved in serveal highly successful breeding programs for other amphibian species, including the Southern Corroboree Frog, Spotted Tree Frog,  Booroolong Frog, and the Green and Golden Bell Frog.

This discovery is really exciting news – something that is refreshing amongst the world-wide decline of amphibians. We mustn’t forget though, that amphibians around the world need our help to prevent further extinctions.

The beautiful Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) is considered Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only three animals of this species have been seen in the wild since late 2007 and it is now quite possibly Extinct in the Wild.

Fortunately for the species though, approximately 1,500 animals still exist aboard the AArk, thanks to the work of Project Golden Frog (www.ProjectGoldenFrog.org) and the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) (www.houstonzoo.org/amphibians/) in central Panama.

The Amphibian Ark is currently trying to help create a dedicated facility in Panama, at the EVACC, to house an expanding population of golden frogs that will hopefully someday be used for reintroduction back into the wild. Work on building this his facility is almost complete, but requires an additional $15,000 to complete.

Please give the gift of gold – make a donation (maybe in someone else’s honor) and help us to save one of the most spectacular amphibian species, the Panamanian Golden Frog, from extinction. Please click here to make your donation.

In February I facilitated an amphibian Conservation Needs Assessment workshop for Guatemalan species, at the Museum of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City. Participants at the workshop were Carlos Vasquez, Jonathan Campbell (Guatemalan Regional Chair of the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group), Ted Papenfuss , Manuel Acevedo, Roderico Anzueto , Liza García, Jacobo Conde, Alejandra Zamora and Gustavo Ruano. 

During the workshop, 142 Guatemalan species were evaluated by the participants to assess actions that are required to ensure their survival, with species falling into one or more of six different conservation roles:

  • 34 species requiring rescue – Species that are in imminent danger of extinction (locally or globally) and requires ex situ management, as part of an integrated program, to ensure their survival.
  • 42 species requiring in situ conservation – Species for which mitigation of threats in the wild may still bring about their successful conservation.
  • 58 species requiring in situ research – Species that for one or more reasons require further in situ research to be carried out as part of the conservation action for the species. One or more critical pieces of information is not known at this time.
  • 12 species requiring ex situ research – Species undergoing specific applied research that directly contributes to the conservation of the species, or a related species, in the wild (this would include clearly defined ‘model’ or ‘surrogate’ species).
  • 12 species suited to conservation education – Species that are specifically selected for management – primarily in zoos and aquariums – to inspire and increase knowledge in visitors, in order to promote positive behavioural change. For example, when a species is used to raise financial or other support for field conservation projects (this would include clearly defined ‘flagship’ or ‘ambassador’ species).
  • 37 species which do not currently require conservation action

Workshop participants assessing the conservation needs of Guatemalan amphibians.

At the end of the workshop, participants discussed the results, and the next steps that are required. Further in situ research work is currently underway, with a number of universities currently involved in field research. Interest is high in holding an amphibian husbandry workshop in Guatemala over the coming months to increase the in-country capacity to establish successful ex situ conservation programs.

A proposal is currently being drafted to seek support for a small amphibian conservation breeding and display facility, with display facilities for one or two common frog and salamander species, and an off-display area where husbandry skills can be increased, and several species can be established for captive breeding.

Funds for the workshop were generously provided by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Fund, and we are grateful for their support for this workshop.

The detailed results from the workshop can be found on the Amphibian Ark’s data portal.

One of the first Chilean Darwin's Frogs born in captivity in Concepcion, Chile. December 2009

With Marcela Sepulveda Tirado of Santiago’s National Zoo, I traveled to Concepción, Chile andvisited the ex situ facility for Darwin’s Frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii) in September 2009 to find Carlos Barrientos Donoso and his advisor Professor Juan Carlos Ortiz carefully watching over 11 Darwin’s frogs and receiving advice from Dr. Klaus Busse of the Bonn Museum in Germany. This ex situ breeding project, a joint effort of the Universidad de Concepción and Leipzig Zoo is focused on preserving this amazing frog within it’s range country. The frogs appeared to be doing very well under their care and we observed courtship activities that very day. Later in the year, I was informed that the frogs had bred and there were males holding developing froglets in their vocal sacs. Frank Oberwemmer, Conservation Officer for Leipzig Zoo informed me recently that beginning on Christmas eve, December 24, 2009 and ending December 31, 2009,  13 tiny Darwin’s Frogs were born!  They are now (February 21) up to 17 mm long and doing quite well! This represents the first captive breeding of this uniquely Chilean species in range country! Congratulations are definitely in order! I am certain that Marcela and team in Santiago will be next to breed this unique amphibian and soon will have tiny Darwin’s frogs to look after in their facility!  (Actually, the range of Rhinoderma does slip into Argentina too!)  Thanks to Frank for the heads up!

Last week I visited the Balsa de los Sapos amphibian conservation program at the Catholic University (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador)  in Quito, Ecuador with pathologist Allan Pessier (San Diego Zoo) and veterinarian Brad Wilson (Atlanta). Our mission was to help Dr. Luis Coloma and his staff with health and disease issues within their collection. Heidi Ross, c0-director of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in Panama also joined us to relate her experiences working with an equally large and diverse collection of threatened amphibians.

Allan Pessier demonstrates necropsy techniques to Balsa staff

A male Gastrotheca cornuta (Marsupial Frog) at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

On the way home from an Amphibian Ark Conservation Needs Assessment workshop in Guatemala, I stopped by Atlanta for a few days, primarily to work with Atlanta-based internet marketing agency, Moxie Interactive (Moxie is helping to redevelop AArk’s web site, but more about that in a future post), but I also took advantage of being in Atlanta to visit the botanical garden.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) has been involved in a number of breeding programs for endangered Central American frog species since the late 1990s. They have been successful breeding speices such as Gastrotheca, Anotheca etc. and currently maintain over a hundred animals in various enclosures, both on display in the Fuqua Conservatory, and in off-display breding facilities.

The ABG also makes use of a specially designed “pod” for much of it’s breeding efforts. The pod has been created from an un-used shipping container, and was modelled closely on the original amphibian pod designed by Gerry Marantelli from the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about amphibian containers on the AArk web site.

The inside of the frog pod at the Atlanta Botanic Gardens

I’d like to thank ABG Amphibian Specialist, Robert, for taking the time to show me around the amphiban facilities, and I would strongly encourage people to pay a visit to the ABG to learn more about their very successful amphibian conservation program.

In a world-first for zoos, a nest of abandoned mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) tadpoles has been moved from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust to Chester Zoo, and the tadpoles are now being cared for by an adoptive mum. Female mountainchickens normall care for their young, and it is unusual for a female to abandon her offspring. The feamle is now feeding her new brood as if they were her own.

Mount chickens are native to Montserrat and Dominica, but their numbers in the wild have breen drastically decreased due to hunting for food and by chytrid fungus. A number of institutions, including Durrell and Chester, are working collaboratively on a breeding program for the species, as well as undertaking research into the species in the wild.

Three new caecilians in the Ichthyophis genus were recently discovered in north-east Indoa. Photo courtesy of The Hindi Newspaper.

In October, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor S.D. Biju from Delhi University, discovered three new caecilian species in Manipur and Nagaland in north-east India. The latest finds increases the number of  caecilian species inthe region to nine.

The new species were reported in Zootaxa 2267: 26-42 (19 Oct. 2009) – See Kamei, Rachunliu G. (India), Wilkinson, Mark (UK), Gower, David J. (UK) & Biju, S. D. (India). Three new species of striped Ichthyophis (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Ichthyophiidae) from the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Nagaland.

An abtract from the article can be found on the Zootaxa web site.

Lungless caecilian

Photographs courtesy Marvalee Wake, University of California, Berkeley, via Proceedings of the Royal Society B

A second, lungless caecilian species has recently been discovered in Guyana. This new species, Caecilita iwokramae, is very different to the other known lungless caecilian species, Typhlonectes eiselti, since it is only 11 cm long and it lives on land. T. eiselti was 72 cm in length and is completely aquatic. It is known only from a single holotype specimen.

Click here for the full report on this new species, on the National Geographic News web site. More information about T. eiselti can be found in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.

The Kihansi spray toad used to live in the spray region of the Kihansi waterfall, in Tanzania, and relied heavily on the spray from the waterfall to maintain a constant temperature and humidity in its environment. But due to the construction of a dam which funded by the World Bank, the waterfall has been disrupted, and the Kihansi spray toad has recently been declared Extinct in the Wild.

A number of small populations of this species exist in US zoos, and in spit of several setbacks with the initial population of 500 animals that were collected, the current population now sits at around 470 animals.

How many more species will become extinct in the wild, relying entirely on ex situ “ark” populations for their survival, before we start to take better care of our planet and ALL of its inhabitants?

More information on the Kihansi spray toad can be found here.