Category Archives: amphibian

One tiny hop from extinction

 James Woodford – Sydney Morning Herald

NSW was down to one male spotted tree frog. Now they’re back, writes James Woodford.

IN THE middle of a wilderness, in the middle of the night, we are searching for frogs’ eyes.

It is pitch black and we are up to our shins in the frigid waters of Bogong Creek in Kosciuszko National Park at an altitude of 1100 metres.

Amid the splashing of rapids Dr Dave Hunter, a threatened species officer with the Department of Environment and Climate Change, and Mike McFadden, a herpetologist at Taronga Zoo, are looking for sparkles the size of dewdrops. From the thick, tall forest of alpine ash beside the creek there is the call of an endangered yellow-bellied glider. Conversation is hard above the constant rush of water over boulders, following a summer of good rain.

Caught by the glow of our torches, a native fish called mountain galaxids can be seen swimming around crystal-clear pools. “An abundance of mountain galaxids indicates an absence of trout,” Hunter says.

Trout are an enemy of frogs and native fish. The fact that the exotic fish – known to many scientists as foxes of the water – are not here is what helps to make Bogong Creek such a special place.

The rocks in the waterway are slippery and wild undergrowth makes the banks impenetrable.

“I’ve got one,” says McFadden.

It is amazing that Hunter and McFadden saw these two pinpoints of light reflected in their small spotlights and even more incredible that they are there at all.

The pinpoints are the eyes of a spotted tree frog, perhaps the most endangered animal in New South Wales. Just a decade ago the species was represented in this creek by a lone male – the last survivor of an amphibian apocalypse. So dire were the prospects of the spotted tree frog in Bogong Creek that in 1998 the decision was taken to catch the last male and bring him into captivity at the Amphibian Research Centre near Melbourne, under the care of the centre’s director, Gerry Marantelli. There the frog was mated with captured females from an endangered Victorian population at Wheeler Creek.

In spite of the desperate situation of that last male he was given the nickname Dirk Diggler, after the mythical porn star. Instead of Roller Girl, Dirk’s partners are known as the Wheeler Girls.

Luckily both parties have lived up to their names.

“Dirk has got a lot to be proud of,” McFadden says.

In the last two years the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and the Amphibian Research Centre in Melbourne have been able to release 600 of Dirk’s offspring as year-old frogs.

Tonight, Hunter and McFadden are doing a survey along 300 metres of Bogong Creek to determine how well these young frogs are faring. In the last year 150 of these young captive-reared frogs have been accounted for by the team’s surveys.

Every few weeks over summer a party walks up the exact same stretch, following the same survey methods. The work is far removed from simply emptying a bucket of tadpoles back into Bogong Creek – strict protocols have been written and everything is done according to rigorous scientific rules.

Spotted tree frogs were discovered by accident in NSW in 1973 when Dr Hal Cogger, of the Australian Museum, stopped his car by Bogong Creek and found them basking in the sun. At that time the area was thick with the amphibians and catching them was easy.

Among herpetologists the find was a sensation and studies of the population were undertaken. But almost as soon as monitoring was started, the frog population declined disastrously. Scientists started to find sick and dying frogs but no one knew the cause of the catastrophe.

Hunter says it now seems almost certain that a fungus called chytrid is killing and infecting frogs worldwide. It is also now thought that humans may play a part in the spread of the pathogen. The population collapse is of particular concern to Hunter as he was part of those early surveys when he was an undergraduate.

HUNTER points to where he and McFadden have found the spotted tree frog. The creature is on a steep, downstream face of a boulder. But I cannot see anything.

The frogs are well camouflaged and amid the chaos of the wilderness stream the only way of finding them at night is by catching their reflected eyeshine. We move closer and it is not until the frog is almost close enough to touch that its body becomes visible.

Hunter gloves up to make sure there is no risk of spreading any kind of infection. He catches it and stretches out its toes. Because these captive-reared frogs are virtually identical to each other, scientists clip their toe joints so they can follow the life history of each released animal. The absence of a digit on the frog’s feet correlates to a code which allows each specimen to be numbered.

“He is individual 1088,” Hunter says. “He was released as a year-old animal in January ’07. Now we are going to process him.”

Frog 1088 weighs in at a wispy 4.18 grams and is measured before his toes, fingers, armpits and groin are swabbed. The swab sample will be sent to the CSIRO Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong to determine if he is infected with the chytrid fungus.

Releasing such precious captive-reared frogs back into Bogong Creek is a big gamble but one the scientists feel they have to take. Hunter’s team hopes that the frogs can build up some sort of resistance to the fungus, which will mean that their chance of survival is much better in the long term.

Their fear is that sending captive-bred frogs into the wild is like ordering soldiers out of a trench in front of an enemy machine gun post.

For endangered amphibians the captive breeding is just the first challenge. Sometimes very large aquarium populations can be established quickly. And that seems to be the case with the spotted tree frogs. A captive-breeding program, however, can only buy time. Eventually a species has to go out and face the worst Mother Nature can throw at it.

The spotted tree frog project is one of the few in the world where the early results have been so promising, Hunter says. “We are excited about this project because, so far, it has worked.”

By the end of the evening Hunter and McFadden have found eight young frogs. It is nearly 11 pm by the time the scientists reach the end of the survey. As we clamber up the bank and onto the first clear, level land we have seen since dusk, McFadden says: “You have just seen a species that was extinct in NSW.”

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Hop to it to save frogs from extinction

They’re not cute, but as a bellwether for the environment, conservationists say it’s vital to save them

Chantal Eustace, Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, February 29, 2008

A member of one of the most endangered species in Canada, a bulgy-eyed speckled frog, sits perfectly still on a man-made float watching a cricket drift closer.

Then, with one sweep of its sticky tongue, the sit-and-wait predator gulps down its prey.

It’s an act that, if repeated enough times, may help the Oregon spotted frog leap back from the brink of extinction.

Saving the species is a local part of a worldwide fight to protect amphibian populations.

Today, leap day, kicks off the international year of the frog, aimed at drawing attention to what could be the “largest extinction since the dinosaurs.”

The numbers are alarming.

Up to half of the world’s known frog species are threatened, including B.C.’s Oregon spotted frog.

There is no time to waste in the battle to save them, says Dennis Thoney, a volunteer member of the Oregon spotted frog recovery team who works at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“We’re facing the largest extinction since the dinosaurs,” Thoney says, adding that more than 120 species have gone extinct since the 1980s. “The amphibian crises is real.”

A number of things are killing frogs, from global warming to introduced predators and habitat loss. A parasitic fungus called amphibian chytrid is considered a major contributor to the decline of amphibian populations worldwide. It has been found in B.C.

Like any species, frogs are an important part of the food chain, providing food for animals. They also eat insects.

Referred to by scientists as the ecological “canary in the coal mine,” frogs are among the first species to be affected by environmental stresses, including pollution.

If they decline in the wild, people should take note, says Thoney, adding these issues will be covered in the aquarium’s Frogs Forever? exhibit, opening today. It features 26 types of frogs, including the Oregon spotted.

The exhibit is one of many to be launched globally during the year of the frog in response to a World Conservation Union plea to zoos and aquariums to help frogs.

They’ve been encouraged to use leap year to raise awareness and advised to consider implementing “captive survival” programs.

The idea is that at least of few of each frog species will be kept alive — an amphibian ark of sorts — even if the species can’t survive in the wild.

Thoney says this is important since populations like the Oregon spotted frog are so fragile: “They could all disappear just like that. They could be gone.”

DOWN IN THE VALLEY

Oregon spotted frogs are slimy-looking and small. They don’t grow much larger than two toonies side by side.

They’re secretive, shy and particular about where they live; like most frogs the wetter, the better.

In B.C., the remaining population of Oregon spotted frog, one of about 17 amphibian species in the province, can still be found in three areas of the bustling Fraser Valley.

For Fraser Valley frogs, like humans, finding a space to live has become harder and harder. As the Valley becomes more developed, they have less space to live. Waterways and ponds needed for breeding are disappearing.

B.C. Frogwatch, part of the Environment Ministry’s environmental stewardship division, notes that Oregon spotted frogs are even picky about water temperature.

They “prefer ponds that are exposed to sunlight, so that the water can be warmed,” says the Frogwatch website. Unlike other types of frog, they rarely leave the water.

“This makes the frogs especially vulnerable to fragmentation of their habitat.”

So far, helping these frogs has been an uphill battle. Since 1999 — when the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada noted their decline — a recovery team of experts has been trying to find effective tactics.

Representatives of the Vancouver Aquarium, the Greater Vancouver Zoo, the Seabird Island Indian Band, the University of B.C. and various provincial and federal agencies have spent countless hours at it.

But so far they are losing the battle. There are fewer than 300 of the frogs in B.C. — about 150 male and 150 female.

“They are just steadily declining,” says Keena McNeil, a member of the Seabird Island Band. “I’m really worried this year because there wasn’t much last year.”

McNeil, 20, sends out monthly conservation-focused newsletters with reminders about the endangered population of frogs living in the band’s territory — one of only three breeding grounds in the area.

“It’s really important to us. It’s a creature of the land and we’re trying to help it not to die off.”

She tells people to stop their cars if they see a frog on the road. Every frog counts, she says.

EASILY WIPED OUT

It’s all about increasing the numbers.

“If you get down to only one frog — they’re dead,” says recovery team member John Richardson, a University of B.C. forestry professor who has worked with the team since the effort began in 1999.

Richardson said B.C.’s population of the frogs is so fragile that it could easily be completely wiped out.

Habitat loss due to development in the Fraser Valley has been a major factor, he says. Agricultural pesticides and introduced predators such as the American bullfrog have contributed significantly to the decline.

Despite almost a decade working to monitor breeding, study habitat and release frogs into the wild, the numbers have not seemed to improve.

“So far we haven’t seen a lot of them coming back to breed,” says Richardson, adding that it is hard to pinpoint exactly what is killing the frogs or preventing adults from reproducing: “Part of the problem is, we don’t know why.”

They have a number of strikes against them, Richardson says. They are difficult to track.

Although thousands of baby frogs from breeding programs have been released into the wild, they don’t reproduce until they are fully grown at about three years.

“They fit nicely into the mouths of snakes, bullfrogs, weasels and crows,” he adds.

Right now the main tactic in the battle to save the frog focuses on what the team calls the “head start” approach.

In late March or early April, team members collect eggs — most of which wouldn’t survive in the wild thanks to predators — and distribute them to the Mountain View Conservation Society in Langley and to the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove.

Last year 8,500 eggs were collected from the Seabird Island area. More than half were released back into the area as young frogs. But it’s difficult to know how many survive.

“It’s better than nothing,” Robertson says. “You have to try.”

Both the zoo and the conservation society pay staff to oversee the programs. They care for the eggs as they hatch into tadpoles, then metamorphose into baby frogs and finally mature to the point where they can be released.

THE BIGGER, THE BETTER

Hands full of frog cuisine, Cindy Hulst carefully distributes the squirming crickets over a tub holding about 300 baby frogs.

Hulst waits silently as one by one, the frogs hop up onto floats in the tub in a heated room at the zoo.

Hulst smiles as the one by one, the frogs eat. “The bigger the frog, the better its chance of surviving,” says Hulst, the zoo’s primary frog minder. She has cared for these frogs since they were eggs and says she feels good about working to save a species from extinction.

One particularly chubby frog manages to eat two crickets nearly simultaneously.

He was born at an outdoor tub in the zoo last spring and fed organic kale as a tadpole. He is one of more than 500 spending the winter in two indoor tubs at the zoo because they were too small to be released last fall.

“It’s an endangered species and it’s fun to do the conservation work,” Hulst says, adding that young frogs need a lot of attention. “When they’re frogs they’re not so bad. But in the summer when they’re tadpoles, it’s a lot of work.”

Just preparing the food takes about 15 hours a week. She boils organic kale, purees it, squeezes and dries it. The tubs need to be cleaned, water temperatures monitored and so on.

She is careful not to disturb the fragile inhabitants: “Frogs are very sensitive.”

And they don’t get enough attention.

They’re not particularly cute. They’re not furry or majestic. They don’t inspire public support the way other endangered animals do, says Jamie Dorgan, who oversees the zoo’s program.

“We have trouble raising money because, you know, who cares about a frog?” Dorgan says.

“It’s always a challenge for a species like this.”

But people should care, Dorgan says: “When frogs are getting wiped out, then something is wrong with the ecosystem. We need frogs.”

And frogs need to breed.

Gordon Blankstein, who runs Mountain View Conservation’s frog recovery program, says a new approach is needed to save B.C.’s population of Oregon spotted frogs.

This year, he says, the non-profit organization plans to build a marsh on its 300-acre (120-hectare) property just to help the frogs.

That way, he says, they’ll be able to keep some of the frogs longer, until they are old enough to breed. In the meantime, they’ll be protected from predators.

“This is a battle and they’re a really important species,” Blankstein says, adding that he feels strongly about the frog recovery program, even if it is expensive.

“You’re doing it because you believe it’s the right thing to do.”

ceustace@png.canwest.com

The Vancouver Sun DIGITAL

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Toads may [become] extinct in 10 years in UK areas due to infection

China View

BEIJING, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) — Scientists predict that Britain’s toad population could face extinction in some areas within 10 years due to an infectious fungal disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, media reported Wednesday.

The big unknown is just how long the fungus, which lives on the skin of host amphibians, can survive on its own in water. Scientists fear it may be a very long time.

“We start to see dramatic effects if the chytrid (fungus) lives for longer than seven weeks outside the host,” said Mat Fisher of Imperial College in UK.

“We strongly suspect that it can live for longer because of the devastating effect it has had elsewhere, and the new mathematical models show that this would be very bad news for toads in this country.”

If the fungus is able to live outside the host for a year, there would be a severe decline in the overall population of the European common toad (Bufo bufo) in Britain and, in some places, extinction in 10 years.

The disease has already destroyed entire amphibian populations in Central and South America, and Australia, and is a growing problem in some parts of Europe. Scientists have linked its spread to global warming.

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20 species of birds, sea mammals face extinction threat

Peninsula Online – Ssatish Kanady

doha • A total of 20 species of birds, fish and sea mammals are facing the extinction threat in Qatar, says the Sustainable Development report released by the General Secretariat for Development Planning (GSDP). “Qatar has a recorded 262 bird species and 1.9 per cent of them are facing extinction threat. Of the total 139 species of fish and sea mammals, 2.2 per cent are also facing the threat,” the report says. The environment indication section of the document also says that Qatar’s coastal water has a high rate of ammonia and nitrate concentration. The high concentration of these elements can cause excessive growth of plant planktons leading to a tilt in the balance of Qatar’s marine eco system.

Regarding the endangered species, the report says that the birds form 5 species while the fish and mammals are amounting to dozens. The document stressed the need for preserving and multiplying the numbers of the species. The document is optimistic that Qatar’s renewed efforts to protect the living ecosystem and the decision to expand the area of land, marine natural and coastal reserve will help combat the menace. The Islamic Shariah’s promotion on raising awareness of the importance of conserving living creatures and the enactment of environmental law regulating hunting will come to the rescue of endangered species.

Strict measures have also been introduced to prohibit trading in living species threatened with extinction listed in the appendices of the Convention of International Trading in Endangered Species (Cites). On the concentration of natural nutrient elements such as nitrogen and phosphorous in coastal waters, the data indicator shows a high concentration of ammonia , in general, in Qatari coastal waters, with concentration ranging between 63.33 and 185.1 in the area facing Mesaieed. “Causes of this high rate are flows rich in ammonia by some industrial enterprises”, the document said.

Nitrate concentration is also high in coastal waters facing Doha, reaching 144 microgrammes/litre in 2004. This high concentration is due to the biodegradation of some nitrogenous substances and their oxidation by bacteria into nitrates. “A high increase of the concentration of these elements can cause excessive growth of plant planktons and the ecological equilibrium in the area will be negatively affected. Some poisonous plant substances cause the death of large quantities of fish and huge numbers of marine animals will perish. Concentration of ammonia and nitrates in Qatari coastal waters is high when compared with the values recorded in some Arabian Gulf areas.” the environment indicator report said.

The environmental indicator also shows a decline in the quantity of underground water. Field measurements indicated a high salinity rate in the underground water. According to the report, underground water consumption rates are expected to fall in the next few years. “Qatar aims at reducing annual withdrawal of underground water, discovering feeding sources to upgrade its quality as well as search for substitute water resources, both conventional and non-conventional”, the document said.

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A hop away from extinction

The Hindu

 

BANGALORE: They are not exactly cutie-pies. Being slimy and warty, frogs may not feature in your list of favourite animals. But you’ve got to admit you would miss their rrribbids if they fell silent on a rainy night. And, tellingly, they are an indicator of the health of the local environment.

According to research by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), nearly half of the Earth’s 6,000 amphibians, including frogs, are in danger of extinction. Destruction of habitat, trade and over-collection are just some of the factors that are threatening the frogs along with a another unstoppable killer, amphibian chytrid, a fungal disease that has the capacity to catalyse what could be the largest mass extinction since dinosaurs disappeared, according to IUCN.

To save the frog from this fate, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, IUCN’s Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group have formed Amphibian Ark, a programme designed to educate, raise funds and captive breed the species. They have also declared 2008 as the Year of the Frog.

Frogs form an essential part of the ecosystem – as predator and prey – snapping up bugs and insects that destroy crops, and ending up in turn as sumptuous meals for birds, fish and turtles (or on dinner plates for those consider frog legs a delicacy).

In India, the campaign will be promoted by the Amphibian Network of South Asia and its hosts and Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO).

Sanjay Molur, Deputy Director of ZOO, Coimbatore, says: “In India, the focus is always on new research, on discovering new species. But a lot of work needs to be done to determine the status of frogs.” For instance, he says, “there is no information on whether chytrid sickness has spread rapidly in India. It may be killing frogs silently somewhere in India without our knowledge.”

A training workshop has been initiated by ZOO in Periyar to train individuals and prepare them to handle this crisis, Mr. Molur adds. “We have also come out with over 5,000 Amphibian Ark publications to educate the general public, students, teachers and government officials.”

The educational programmes and activity will become vigorous in the run up to 2008 when the whole campaign will begin on a large scale, he says. The funds raised from this global campaign will be used to raise funds for the conservation work of these amphibians.

For more information about this campaign or be a part of it, write to zooreach@zooreach.org or to AArk at ZOO WILD, PO Box 1683, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu 641004.

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Critically endangered species found in soon-to-be-destroyed Sumatran forests

 Wildlife Extra

Scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have discovered that some unprotected areas of Sumatran forests are safe havens for a variety of threatened species, including tigers, elephants, sun bears, tapirs, golden cats and clouded leopards. The Indonesian Government is currently allocating these areas to oil palm, timber plantations and other concessions, all of which have damaging impacts on the environment. If this strategy is not changed, it will result in loss of habitat that is vital to the future of the Sumatran tiger and many other species.

The survey focused on large mammals and revealed evidence of Sumatran tigers (critically endangered) throughout the area and groups of elephants with calves (endangered) in at least half of the forest as well as several other threatened mammals.

Adnun Salampessy, ZSL Field Researcher and coordinator of the survey, added, ‘We were astonished when we saw the images from the camera traps, which included an entire elephant family and at least five different tigers, identifiable by their stripes. Although we always believed these areas were important, it is incredibly encouraging to have actual, incontrovertible proof of the animals’ presence. We hope that this evidence will help persuade the government that such areas are highly important for conservation.’

Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park
The ZSL survey covered nearly 2000 sq. km of degraded, logged and partially settled forest adjacent to Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in central Sumatra, which has recently been allocated to clearance for plantation forest. The surveys were led by the Zoological Society of London scientists, with survey teams including members of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) wildlife protection teams and Indonesian forestry department (PHKA) staff from Bukit 30 National Park.

Sarah Christie, ZSL Carnivore Programme Manager, added, ‘This work shows that the criteria for developing land in Sumatra need to be urgently reassessed. Just because forests have been logged does not mean they have lost their value for biodiversity. Many of these areas are playing a vital role in supporting the last remaining Sumatran tigers. Before any land is allocated for conversion it is vital that thorough assessments are made of the remaining value to wildlife so that important areas can be avoided whilst areas that have to be developed can be done so sustainably.

The Zoological Society of London has been working in Indonesia for five years and is committed to working with the Government, industry and other NGOs on finding workable solutions to the continuing conflict between economic development and wildlife conservation.

Endangered animals under threat

  • The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is the smallest and darkest of the subspecies of tiger and is currently classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of 250 mature individuals. The species is only found on Sumatra, Indonesia, and is predominantly threatened by poaching and habitat loss.
  • The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with fewer than 50,000 surviving, as a result of the effects of the timber and ivory trades, as well as human conflict.
  • The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, as it has been little studied. It is threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
  • The Asian tapir (Tapirus indicus) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and lives in fragmented populations throughout Southeast Asia. It is predominantly threatened by habitat loss, but hunting also has an impact.
  • The golden cat (Catopuma temminckii) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss.
  • The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is currently classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated mature population of less than 10,000. The species is declining as a result of habitat and prey loss and persecution.

The forests of Sumatra and Indonesia
The Zoological Society of London has been working since 2000 to establish how tigers and other large mammals use Sumatran habitat. The tropical forests of Sumatra in Indonesia are home to many of the world’s endangered species, including tigers, however these forest habitats are rapidly being cleared to make way for agribusiness operations such as logging and oil palm plantations. ZSL is actively working with oil palm and other resource extraction companies to find ways of mitigating the environmental damage caused.

Indonesia, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, lost over a third of its forest between 1985 and 1997 and was recently named as the third largest carbon-emitter in the world. Whilst the government is taking steps to prevent further loss of primary forest, development of ‘degraded’ or secondary forest by industry is being actively encouraged.

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Bum-breathing Turtle, Irwin’s Discovery, Endangered

Short News

Elseya irwini, a bum breathing turtle that was discovered by the late Steve Irwin and named after his father Bob and himself might be nearing the endangered status. Bob Irwin hooked the turtle on a fishing line on a family camp in 1990.

Photos were taken and given to a turtle expert. A new species was confirmed after Steve Irwin’s Death. This turtle only lives in the Broken-Bowen River system.

Dr Ivan Lawler stated, “My best guess is there are only 4,000 to 5,000 in the wild.” Research suggests that the population is a ‘female-biased’ population. Males and juveniles are lacking in this population, researchers don’t know why.

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