There are about 6,000 species of amphibians on the planet today. By the time we pass on and leave the world in our children’s hands, one-third to one-half of the species will have gone extinct. It’s projected by scientists to be the most significant mass extinction since the dinosaur. Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe not. But following is a straightforward accounting of the tectonic changes behind the massive, global disappearance of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians.  The way to act is to read up and help Amphibian Ark at www.amphibianark.org.

Chytrid, the AIDS of amphibiaChytrid is a fungal borne disease that is toxic to 80% of amphibian species. For thousands of years, it was confined to a section of Africa. The African Clawed Frog was one of the lucky 20% of species that was immune to the disease. But when the medical industry discovered African Clawed Frogs could be used as an ingenious pregnancy test for humans, they shipped the frogs out of Africa to all parts of the world. The species carried the Chytrid fungus with it, and the disease exploded. Most recently it has decimated the chicken frog population of Montserrat, and crossed the Panama Canal. Here are links to more information:

Watch for future posts that complete the five reasons:

Habitat destruction –

Pollution –

Global Warming –

Indifference –

Veronica from Bolivia just told me about a frog I hadn’t heard of before — Telmatobius culeus, or the Lake Titicaca frog.  This species has to deal with very thin oxygen high in the Andes, so mother nature has given it special characteristics. The following is excerpted from Livingunderworld.org. Note that the species is considered vulnerable and yet people are reportedly eating them.  Full article HERE.

Telmatobius culeus is referred to as the Lake Titicaca Frog, and is only found in Lake Titicaca. Because of the lower oxygen content in and around the lake, T. culeus must have an efficient method of obtaining the necessary amount of oxygen for survival. To do this, T. culeus respires mainly by means of cutaneous respiration (breathing through the skin), is exclusively aquatic, and possesses large folds of skin all over the body that make it appear flabby and prehistoric. The extra folds of skin increase the amount of oxygen absorbed through the skin because they increase the surface area to volume ratio; a characteristic that is also observed in other permanently aquatic amphibians. These frogs also do “push-ups” that create small disturbances in the water, which increases oxygen flow. The unique blood of T. culeus also aids oxygen absorption. The blood has the smallest erythrocytes (red blood cells) of all the amphibians, and the highest amount of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin are molecules in the blood that bind to oxygen, so the more hemoglobin an animal has, the more oxygen it can carry in the blood at one time. Because of their aquatic nature, these frogs have evolved reduced lungs, and rely almost entirely on cutaneous respiration.

Although classed as “vulnerable” with C.I.T.E.S., T. culeus are eaten in restaurants in Bolivia and Peru, and are a popular tourist dish. Recently, they have been collected for use in what the natives call frog juice, or Peruvian viagra. The frogs are literally put in a blender, and consumed.

What Jennifer Holland has reported in National Geographic is one of the best summaries of the amphibian crisis I have read. The photos are beautiful, the anecdotes fresh and unforgettable. You need to read it. Click HERE.

From the people who brought you “Silence of the Bees”: PBS NATURE will croak about amphibian crisis in April: http://tinyurl.com/aejzkb
Here’s the news release about the April 5 special:

There is an environmental crisis unfolding in our own backyard and around the globe. As the celebration of Earth Day draws near, NATURE takes an in-depth look at the greatest mass extinction of amphibians since the dinosaurs. Frogs have been on this planet for more than 250 million years; now scientists are struggling to keep them alive. NATURE “Frogs: The Thin Green Line” airs Sunday, April 5, 2009, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS.
Researchers have found evidence that one of the major reasons for the loss of one-third of our amphibians today stems from a fungus called chytrid. Unfortunately, the experts don’t know where it started and don’t know how to stop it. What they do know is that it grows in high altitudes, needs water and requires a host to spread. The hosts are the many beautiful species of amphibians the disease destroys.
“Once again, we’re fortunate to be working with Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Allison Argo,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE. “Allison is able to craft a powerful story with remarkable footage capturing the intimate details of both life and death of these creatures.”
Frogs sit right in the middle of the food chain, causing a tremendous change in the ecosystem affecting fish, water quality, snakes and birds. Because of chytrid, other creatures are disappearing. In Central Panama, biologists have evacuated frogs from the forest in order to save their lives. Today, their facility shelters 58 species of frogs — some of the rarest on earth.
Where once there were the calls of frogs, there is now silence, and this silence is traveling through Central America and South America. Yet two hours south of the Panama Canal, there is a small patch of forest called Burbayar, where frogs live as they have for millions of years. Scientists in Panama are hoping this disease hasn’t yet reached this isolated forest. The Burbayar seems to be healthy, with thriving frogs and insects. The question is, for how long?
NATURE has won nearly 450 honors from the television industry, parent groups, the international wildlife film community and environmental organizations, including 10 Emmys, three Peabodys and the first award given to a television program by the Sierra Club. Most recently, the series won a Peabody Award for “Silence of the Bees.”

Report this morning from San Diego’s CW6 News, reporter Elsa Sevilla. See video on TV station’s Web site here.

A fungus in amphibians is killing thousands of animals around the world.

The statistics are alarming. Twenty-five of the world’s top scientists, experts and amphibian veterinarians gathered at the San Diego Zoo to discuss solutions to the problem. It’s all part of a three-day conference at the Zoo which ended Wednesday.

“Populations worldwide have declined because of this disease, Chytrid Fungus,” says Doctor Allan Pessier, a scientist at the San Diego Zoo.

Scientists say the deadly disease is not only killing amphibians, but thousands of species are becoming extinct, too. The fungus attacks the amphibian’s skin. In frogs, it can be deadly because frogs use their bodies to drink water. The disease can be transfered to other amphibians as the fungus survives in spores that live in the water. Both amphibians in captivity and those in the wild are known to be infected. The amphibians at the San Diego Zoo have been tested for the fungus and they tested negative.

“You go to a place that was healthy six months ago and is now covered with dead frogs all over the ground and the populations never recovers,” says Doctor Joseph Mendelson from the Atlanta Zoo in Georgia.

Mendelson conducts research at the Atlanta Zoo, but also travels around the world to see first hand what has happened to hundreds of species that are now extinct because of the disease.

It is not known exactly where the disease originated, but some experts believe it may have first been detected in Africa. Currently, South and Central America, and Australia are now seeing an alarming number of amphibians die due to the fungus.

“The Experts on the issue are here at the San Diego Zoo meeting with each other, exchanging ideas, developing tests, developing strategies, ways to combat this,” says Anne Redice of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS, in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to a grant from IMLS, scientists, experts and veterinarians gathered for the three-day conference this week. They are looking for solutions to eradicate the deadly disease, but they are also looking to create a standardized method of testing in order to stop the fungus from spreading from amphibians in the wild to those who have been relocated to zoos around the country and the world.

“We are losing part of our eco-system. It will have ramifications on how the eco-system functions,” says Mendelson.

Hoping to prevent a major impact on the environment, scientists say they are literally, scrambling for answers to save thousands of species from extinction.

I love basketball, but I was never good at it. That’s not Coach Dyer’s fault; he offered encouragement to me back in the seventh grade. I simply didn’t practice enough — didn’t repeat the muscle movements over and over again so that the proper form and motion happened automatically. Muscle memory, they call it.  

Now, I have to admit, I really don’t love amphibians. I never had a frog as a pet, never dragged my parents to the amphibian house when we would visit the zoo, and never understood, until recently, that they are the canaries in the coal mine for our planet’s health. But now that I know Kermit’s in big trouble, I can’t walk away from it.  A team of us at my company is helping a new organization, named Amphibian Ark, to rally support — from governments, corporations, foundations, and consumers — so that it can capture and breed hundreds of threatened amphibian species. 

Among the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of most endangered wildlife, amphibians hold the distinction of potentially losing up to one-half of their entire class of animal life to extinction in our lifetime — almost 3,000 species. That would be the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Amphibian Ark (AArk) was created by IUCN, Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums to do the urgent work that’s necessary to avert the mass extinction, while other organizations will tackle the longer term problems, such as  pollution and habitat loss.

It hasn’t been difficult getting media coverage for the issue, thankfully. But the ultimate success of Amphibian Ark depends on raising $50-$60 million pretty quickly. We need to make a personal impact with the people around the world who write checks, large and small. And let’s be honest, the number of environmental causes competing for funding is starting to look like an L.A. freeway at 4:00.

What separates Amphibian Ark, however, is its relative simplicity and potential for a speedy, happy ending. Once the money starts to flow, Kevin Zippel, a herpetologist and the master builder of the AArk plan, will dispatch scientists to remote areas of the world to capture species, then distribute the frogs, salamanders, newts, toads, and caecilians to multiple zoos.  They’re placing each species in several locations to reduce the chance of disease delivering a coup de grace.

Kevin would make a good basketball coach. He knows the X’s and O’s for saving frogs. He just needs a good booster organization. And we’re building it for him.

It seems to me that, in the U.S. at least, many of us think about our environment the same way I thought about basketball. It’s fun to take a few shots, but not much fun to stay after practice to shoot a hundred free throws. When you miss, you have to retrieve the errant ball, return to the line, and do it all over again. A hundred times, every day.  We need to develop muscle memory to face and manage the really important environmental issues. If we begin with a regimen a small steps to save our planet, confidently expecting a positive outcome for our sacrifice, the momentum will alter the future for our children and their children. A quick “win” would do wonders for conditioning that muscle. AArk can provide that quick win.Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, the president of the St. Louis Zoo, is the visionary who brought us into this issue. He asked us to sit down with him to discuss the action plan for fixing the amphibian crisis. He calls Amphibian Ark a landmark learning experience for mankind. I believe he’s right.

plenty_bg1.pngAlisa Opar writes about the amphibian crisis and the Amphibian Ark connection in today’s Plenty Magazine online