Frog Conservation Really Hopping
Amphibian populations all over the world are disappearing on a scale that has been compared to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The reasons for these population declines are many and include loss of habitats, climate change, and introduction of a lethal disease caused by a microscopic chytrid fungus.
Many of the amphibian disappearances occur very quickly and in some cases whole species have become extinct before scientists have even had an opportunity to give them a scientific name.
Biologists are stepping up to this challenge by forming “survival assurance colonies.” Representatives of species that are in danger of extinction are brought into captivity for safekeeping until they can be safely returned to the wild at a later time.
This is a complicated task that requires support from scientists, governments, zoos and the general public. An organization that helps to coordinate the formation of survival assurance populations is the Amphibian Ark, a joint effort of the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
One of the most important amphibian survival assurance colonies is Balsa de los Sapos (“Life Raft of the Frogs”) in Quito, Ecuador. The “Life Raft” was founded by Professor Luis Coloma and now maintains more than 30 species of Ecuador’s most endangered amphibians. This is important because Ecuador is third only to Colombia and Brazil in having greatest number of the world’s amphibian species.
The Wildlife Disease Laboratories of the Institute for Conservation Research has had the privilege of working with the outstanding staff of Balsa de los Sapos through the Amphibian Veterinary Outreach Program (AVOP), a cooperative program of the Amphibian Ark.
It isn’t enough to simply bring frogs into captivity to save a species. The success of an assurance colony depends on keeping populations healthy and breeding over the years until frogs can be returned to the native environment.
AVOP helps address these needs by bringing amphibian care specialists and veterinarians to the survival assurance populations. The AVOP team works side-by-side with assurance colony staff and can make recommendations on everything from nutritional supplements to development of medical protocols and parasite control programs. Our expertise at the Institute is on laboratory diagnosis of amphibian disease.
By identifying the disease problems within the population we are able to help the staff of Balsa de los Sapos remove disease as an obstacle to success.
The most rewarding aspect of AVOP visits is the opportunity to exchange information with animal caretakers all over the world. We have learned as much as we have taught.
By sharing our experience with disease control we have been able to impart long-lasting knowledge and tools that will be used to the benefit of amphibian conservation efforts in the years to come.
The AVOP team is grateful to the Amphibian Ark, the Turner Foundation and Nipmuc Regional High School for their support.
Photos by Brad Wilson, DVM