Female Kihansi Spray Toad with her young toadlet. Courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher
Recently more than 2,000 Kihansi spray toads (Nectophrynoides asperginis), an amphibian species that was declared extinct in the wild in 2009, made the long journey from Toledo, Ohio, and Bronx, New York, to Africa. They were returning to their native habitat in the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania.
These tiny toads are unique in that they live in a micro-habitat—it was created by the spray of nearby waterfalls in the Kihansi Gorge and covers only five acres. This is the smallest range of any known vertebrate species.
In 1990, a hydroelectric dam was constructed that reduced the spray of the falls by 90 percent and so lessened the mist zone that the toads needed for survival. The toad population was also devastated by the chytrid fungus, which has devastated amphibian populations worldwide.
As the toad populations were declining, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo, and later the Toledo Zoo, in agreement with the Tanzanian government (and with the help of numerous organizations—see below), removed 500 toads from the gorge and brought them to the US. Special microhabitats were created for the toads and both zoos were able to breed them successfully.
Now over 2,400 toads have been successfully released in the wild. Before being released, scientists from the University of Dar es Salaam and Sokoine University of Agriculture certified the area as being free from chytrid fungus.
This is the first time that an amphibian that was extinct in the wild has been returned to its native habitat.
Organizations involved in reintroducing the kihansi toad to the wild include the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, the Toledo Zoo, Tanzanian government, World Bank, University of Dar Es Salaam, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wildlife Division and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania Electric Supply Company, and local Tanzanian villagers all took part.
We recently received an e-mail from Laurence Stafford, who lives in a small village called Parteen in County Clare, Ireland. A highway is being proposed that will cut through his village, destroying the habitat of the Irish Common Frog (Rana temporaria).
Photo courtesy www.doeni.gov.uk
Laurence’s e-mail highlights the problem of habitat destruction. What does it matter that frogs are losing their habitat in one small area of Ireland? Unfortunately this type of habitat loss is occurring across the globe: it is one of the reasons for the rapid worldwide amphibian decline. Of course, having a highway cut through a village will have enormous human costs as well.
The story is as follows: there is a joint venture between Limerick County Council and Clare County Council underway to build a highway costing over 352 million euros that will connect Galway to the University of Limerick. The highway will cut through Parteen village.
The Environmental Group of Parteen has warned the emerging preferred route crosses rural farmland, which is home to a protected species, Rana Temporaria. Although this species is fairly plentiful in Ireland, it is protected under an EU directive because of its declining numbers in Europe. The directive aims to protect some 220 habitats and lists approximately 1,000 species, including the frog.
This road will also divide a peaceful and tranquil village in two; the proposed volume of traffic is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 cars, which calculates at 210,000 a month and 2,520,000 a year passing through a small community.
As reported in the Clare Champion, the group’s concerns are shared by Councillor Pascal Fitzgerald, who is disappointed with the planning of the new road, which he claims will divide settled communities and destroy their living environment: “Even people who have no connections with the area are asking why areas that have been ideal for living in are now to virtually have their heart cut out.”
We hope that the local county councils will rethink this route, both to preserve the frogs’ habitat – so important in this time of declining amphibian populations worldwide – but also to preserve the integrity of the village of Parteen.
Here is more information. Ecoparteen’s Twitter feed is here. Please lend your support!
When was your organization founded? Please tell us a bit about its mission, goals…
Save the Frogs is the first and only public charity devoted to amphibians. It was founded in May 2008. Our mission is to save and protect amphibians, as well as to respect and appreciate nature and wildlife.
I founded Save the Frogs because frogs were rapidly disappearing around the world. About one-third of amphibians are on the verge of extinction. At least 2,000 species are threatened and if nothing is done, will likely go extinct. Most of the work previous to Save the Frogs was done by scientists helping amphibians, but educating the public about the issue is also very important.
Save the Frogs has education programs and works to get laws in place, for example, to get frogs legs out of restaurants, provide schools with alternatives to dissecting frogs, and prevent non-native frogs from being imported.
The biggest thing is environmental education so I created Save the Frogs Day, an event which comes around each year. This April 28th will be the 4th annual Save the Frogs Day and there will be 200 events in 30 countries, which will top last year’s 143 events in 21 countries.
The events bring awareness around the world, especially on that particular day and it receives significant publicity in the media.
What is your educational background and what lead to creating this organization?
I was always interested math and science and studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, but soon realized I wanted to pursue environmental science. I went back to school to study biology in preparation for graduate school.
I spent a summer in Hawaii volunteering with PhD students who were studying birds. It was then that I knew environmental science was my path. I loved hanging out at streams, so thought about what types of animals live in streams and then found out that frogs were disappearing. I thought frogs would be great to study for my PhD, so I went to Australia and came across Mark Hero in South East Queensland, who became my supervisor. I studied frogs, and the disease, chytrid fungus, which is driving amphibians to extinction.
I finished my PhD, came back to the United States and founded Save the Frogs. I love my work because it’s a combination of communicating awareness, educating the public and science.
What are some challenges you have faced and how did you deal with them?
The first challenge was funding, because we founded in 2008 during the economic recession. Raising funds for a non-profit is hard in the best of times, plus saving frogs is still somewhat of an obscure topic. Most people still don’t know why we should protect frogs.
Save the Frogs works hard on awareness by using the web and speaking to the public directly.
I try to get publicity through newspapers and for-profit corporations involved. Some of them have practices that are harmful to the environment. Many companies when approached don’t necessarily care about what they are doing and only care about making money.
At least one billion frogs are taken out of the environment for use as food in restaurants (frogs legs) and farm-raised frogs carry diseases and if you approach restaurants and ask them to stop selling them, they only see it as a monetary loss.
I have and will continue to approach tech firms in nearby in Silicon Valley for funding. Many of them have no environmental program.
How is climate change effecting amphibians?
Climate change is a huge problem, so it’s good that it gets a lot of attention. We need more people in the government looking seriously at climate change and what to do about it. It’s very important to amphibians because they are very connected to precipitation levels.
“Amphibian” means two lives, one on land and one in the water. Frogs either lay their eggs in water or in leaf litter and the ones who are not in the water are in cloud forests in tropical countries. As the temperature rises, the cloud level rises and the leaf litter dries up. This means that the frogs must continually move up and eventually will run out of space. Many of the frog species live on a particular mountain and only that mountain, so if something happens to that species it can go extinct.
It’s not just tropical forests that are in trouble, Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. has had droughts. About one fourth of the ponds have started to dry up and many frog species are on the decline.
Save the Frogs had five posters up in airports around the country and the one in O’Hare is still up and has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
How do you reach your targeted audience? Is it through your website, advertising or social media or another route? Which is most effective and why?
The best way I can reach people is through our Save the Frogs website which has helped make it a worldwide organization. Our e-newsletter is also a great tool because whenever we need help and send it out, we can reach tens of thousands of people. We recently sent out an email with a free download of “The Wild World of Frogs” and it got 40,000 downloads in the first day! Many of those downloads were from friends forwarding the newsletter to their friends.
We create a variety of flyers people can post around their towns. Most things we do are free and up on our website and if you give people the tools they will help spread the word.
Some of the other ways we reach people is through our Facebook page with frequent updates, as well as through Twitter.
I give live presentations and did 65 this year. I believe you can get more people involved by interacting with them face-to-face. I’m trying to get more teachers involved and Save the Frogs Day on April 28 is a great way and to get lots of people talking about it.
What can people do to help?
There are lots of ways to help Save the Frogs! Our website has over 250 pages of information. I feel that educating yourself on the issues is the first step and then subscribing to our newsletter to stay informed.
Learning how you can change your ecological footprint is a great way to help. Everything you do effects the environment.
There are lots of ways to volunteer and many things can be done through the internet so you can be from anywhere! There is a form on our website you can fill out. We have various campaigns and also need help writing letters to the government, for example, the campaign to ban Atrazine. Visit our “take action” page.
Save the Frogs is a 5013C public charity and has a wish list of things we need which is also posted on our website.
Tell us about your events around the world and some of the campaigns you have started.
Save the Frogs is an international organization because amphibians are disappearing all over the world. A few years ago I was asked down to Panama to give a five day talk on molecular biology and also taught the scientists there how to detect the chytrid fungus disease. If you cannot detect the disease, how can you do any research on it. The materials and information is available on the Save the Frogs website. “QPC” is the technique for detecting the disease and the materials have been downloaded by scientists in over 30 countries.
Last year I got invited to Korea and was the representative for the 1st Amphibian International Symposium. I traveled around Korea for 10 days doing environmental work. Seeing what types of problems they had, coming up with solutions and giving presentations to communities, groups and schools. We have applied for a $50,000 grant that would go to helping Korea’s amphibians.
In September, 2011 I spent a month in Ghana and helped them start Save the Frogs Ghana. We are registering it as a NGO with the government of Ghana. It will be an independent Save the Frogs working on it’s own. We have written a proposal to help the Squeaker Frog (Arthroleptidae: Arthroleptis) and also to make the Atewa Hills a national park. We are trying to save the Togo Slippery Frog (Conraua derooi) which lives in only two streams and are threatened by mining. They are a fully aquatic frog and swim as fast as a fish.
What is in the works for the future?
Save the Frogs is coming to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in March 2012. I will be looking for schools and community groups for presentations.
Save the Frogs Day is April 28th and we have a 5k race planned in Seattle and another event in San Francisco. There will be “Ban Atrazine” rallies and we will be raising awareness about it.
New campaigns include a petition to Governor Gerry Brown to stop the importation of American Bullfrogs. About 3 million are imported to the state of California each year. Being native to the east coast, when they come to California, they eat the native wildlife and they are primarily for pets, dissection and frogs legs in restaurants. They carry the chytrid fungus so are spreading the disease.
Nathan’s Famous is now selling frogs legs and I want to get this to stop. The executive and CEOs have refused to address the issue. They need to take some environmental responsibility.
Helping Save the Frogs Ghana
Ghana is a poor country and frogs are in trouble because of illegal foresting. There are now programs in place to teach mushroom farming and bee keeping which can change a family’s life. We will be working to get the Atewa Hills a national park.
To learn more about Save the Frogs visit the links below:
Today is Save the Frogs Day, organized and created by conservation biologist Dr. Kerry Kriger. Tune in to hear an interview today with Dr. Kriger at 4:30 US Eastern or 1:30 PST (Sirius 112/XM 157) on Martha Stewart Living Radio.
As it’s been almost a year since we began the Frogs Are Green blog, we thought we’d share some thoughts about it with you. At first when we told our friends and family we were starting a blog to increase awareness about the global amphibian decline, they were a bit mystified, even amused. But I’m happy to say that a year later, almost all have become enthusiastic supporters. So we’d like to give you a few “talking points” in case you come across people who say with skepticism—frogs needs saving? Huh?
Frogs, of course, are not the only animals that need help, and we are personally involved with efforts to save other animals, particularly marine animals. But amphibians as a class of animals are threatened with extinction. That’s like saying that all mammals might soon be extinct. This is the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Frogs have survived for 360 million years (and were on Earth long before the dinosaurs) and yet one-third or more of frog species are in danger of extinction.
Frogs are bioindicators—they reflect back to us the environmental health of our planet. Their permeable skin makes them especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants, such as agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors. Frogs are manifesting reproductive deformities and hormonal disorders, possibly as a result of the stew of chemicals in the water in which they live. As endocrine distruptors are in the water we drink and are in dozens of consumer products we use everyday, we have reason to be concerned. Some scientists believe that an increase in the incidence of newborn baby boys born with genital deformities might be due to endocrine disruptors they have absorbed in utero.
Biodiversity is of critical importance to all of us—scientists still don’t fully understand how all elements interact in an ecosystem, but we do know that disasters occur when we alter even one small part of it (by introducing nonnative species etc). Frogs form an important part of ecosystems as both predator and prey.
While there is no cure yet for the chytrid fungus devastating frog populations, it should make us pause to consider that a whole class of animals could be wiped out by a worldwide fungus. Why aren’t frogs able to fight this off this infection? What are the underlying causes of the fungus? There are so many questions that need answers.
Frogs are subject to all the usual environmental woes—habitat loss, pollution, global warming, overcollection, invasive species. By helping frogs, we help other animals that might not have such a high profile (although frogs have a pretty low profile, all things considered). By focusing on the rainforest frogs, for example, we also help preserve the rainforest and its animals.
Frogs are part of our cultural heritage—our folktales, fairy tales, myths, children’s stories, and legends. In many cultures, they are a symbol of good luck, fertility, healing, prosperity, and are associated with rain and good harvests. And don’t forget our friends Kermit, and Frog and Toad, and Mr. Toad.
The amphibian decline is an environmental issue that you can do something about, possibly in your own backyard or neighborhood. We recently received a comment from a man in Georgia who decided not to fill in a pond on his property because he noticed that several frog species live in the pond. Another commenter from Pennsylvania has asked how he can create a frog pond in his backyard. You can lend your voice to land conservation efforts that protect vernal pools, for example.
Rachel Carson warned in her 1961 book Silent Spring about a world without birds. Can you imagine a world without frogs? Frogs, after all, are the Earth’s most ancient singers. We want to continue to hear their choruses for a long, long time.
So as you enjoy Save the Frogs day, listen to some frog songs. And please join us in helping to save frogs. We’d love to hear from you.
Dr. Kerry Kriger, conservation biologist, founder, and Executive Director of the amphibian conservation organization, Save the Frogs, first conceived of and coordinated this event in 2009. The goal of Save the Frogs Day is to raise awareness about the global amphibian extinction, and to get people of all ages involved in amphibian conservation efforts. On his Save the Frogs website, Dr. Kriger has a powerpoint presentation that can be downloaded, lesson plans for teachers, and many other ideas for students to get involved.
You might consider putting up a display in your school or community center. Susan and I recently put up a display at City Hall in Hoboken, New Jersey, with frog books, drawings of frogs we’ve received from kids, illustrated posters, a poster about the global amphibian decline, and so on. So many people stopped to look at the display as we were putting it up. They were genuinely surprised to learn that amphibians were in such danger.
FROGS ARE GREEN display currently at City Hall, Hoboken, New Jersey
You can download our mission poster (seen above on the right and left in the display) or a poster of a rainforest tree frog in our store. We also have eco-bands made from 100% recycled silicone, other posters, and t-shirts (proceeds go toward Save the Frogs and Amphibian Ark ).
You may also want to throw a Save the Frogs Day party with fun frog-related party favors.
Please send us your event ideas or JPEGs of your Save the Frogs Day event and we will post them in a gallery on our blog!
The BBC News reported today that conservationists have launched a new initiative at the Zoological Society of London called the Amphibian Survival Alliance to safeguard the world’s amphibians from extinction. According to the article, the Alliance will be composed of amphibian experts from around the world, including specialists from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The group will coordinate existing projects, scientific research, and fund-raising.
Tackling the devastating chytrid fungus is the alliance’s first priority. Identified only a decade ago, the fungus now infects amphibians in the Americas, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The group will investigate anti-fungal drugs to combat the deadly disease and explore resistance to the disease in captive-bred populations and in the wild. Protecting amphibian habitats is the group’s next priority.
The alliance will also focus on these other important issues:
unsustainable hunting for food, medicine, and the pet trade
other infectious disease
They hope to raise the profile of amphibians in 2010, which has been designated at the International Year of Biodiversity. Hmmm, perhaps we should tell them about FROGS ARE GREEN?
The organization does not yet have a website, but I will update this post when they are on the web.
Photo by Carey James Balboa, near Playa Jaco in Costa Rica