Guest post by Devin Edmonds,
Amphibian Conservation Director, Association Mitsinjo
It doesn’t get much better than a going into the forests of Andasibe at night. There are leaf-tailed geckos, mouse lemurs, sleeping chameleons, and frogs. Lots of frogs. More than 100 different species, in fact, which have been identified in the surrounding forests. This is more than a third of all described frog species on the island.
Most of these frogs are nocturnal, but a few are also active during the day, like the Critically Endangered golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca), which is only found in a small area near Andasibe in east-central Madagascar.
The conservation organization Mitsinjo works in the area around Andasibe, and is composed of 53 members of the community.
Our activities include:
A group of our projects are targeted specifically at monitoring and addressing the threats our unique local frog species face. This includes the development of Madagascar’s first biosecure captive breeding facility capable of establishing assurance survival colonies of threatened amphibians.
Additionally, we conduct surveys to monitoring for declines and population changes. This activity compliments participation in a nation-wide early detection plan for the chytrid fungus Bd, the devastating pathogen contributing to alarming amphibian extinctions around the world. Fortunately, so far we have not detected Bd in Andasibe and reports elsewhere in Madagascar remain highly doubtful and unconfirmed.
Recently, Mitsinjo joined forces with the NGO Madagasikara Voakajy to contribute to the national conservation strategy for the golden mantella. Each month, we monitor three breeding sites at Torotorofotsy Wetland. This area is under tremendous pressure from artisanal gold mining, slash-and-burn agriculture, and charcoal production. Our habitat patrols help to ensure the breeding sites for this highly threatened amphibian remain intact.
Why is a reptile rescue guy writing about frogs? They aren’t reptiles. And captive frogs don’t need to be rescued. Gators, boas, pythons, maybe even big monitor lizards and iguanas, sure. But frogs?
Herps Alive! The Interactive Reptile and Amphibian Experience, is a traveling educational herpetology program and display. We have presented in 36 states (primarily at college campuses, but also at libraries, festivals elementary and high schools). Now in my fifties, I did my first paid program at age 17, and now my daughter a degreed Interpretative Naturalist, and my son, a marketing whiz, often travel and help me. We offer display programs and interactive lectures as well as classroom sessions, and have presented an estimated 3,000 programs since we started (we have worked some “real” jobs here and there).
As your reputation builds, you start getting calls to adopt animals. Usually they are pets that people can’t keep. Sometimes they are police seizures or animals from other unfortunate situations. We have always accepted these animals in an effort to keep a good relationship with the museums, nature centers and law enforcement officials who contact us.
But in the last year or so, the rescue mission has taken on a life of its own. We have been asked to take in dozens of animals. And for the first time, we began rehoming a few. As a result we are spinning off our rescue mission and working on moving it to a separate location, as we turn it into a charitable foundation.
But what about the frogs?
I have been fascinated with frogs my entire life. My career as a herpetologist probably began at age nine when I caught a toad. I brought him home in a rinsed out pickle jar. (That was 45 years ago when such behavior was acceptable. At the time they were also in the genus Bufo, not Anaxyrus) I have bred several species of frog in captivity and always include a discussion of metamorphosis in my educational programs.
Right now we have three frogs among our 150 animals. Our Southern Toad (Anaxyrusterrestris) was living in a Carolina classroom after a student had brought him. He had been in captivity for too long to be released, so when we came in to do a program, the teacher asked if we could take him. Known just as The Toad, he eats crickets and small worms, as well as waxworms.
Beatrice is an African Clawed Frog (Xenopuslaevis) who was raised from a small size by my son’s ex-girlfriend. When she moved into a new home, she asked us to take her on. Beatrice was raised in a 10 gallon aquarium. When we tried to move her to a larger one, she went off feed and seemed generally unhappy. So back into the ten she went even though it really is too small for her. She loves her goldfish and nightcrawlers and eats anywhere from 10-30 a week. Unfortunately, her relatives have been taking a bad rap lately as they have been identified as the culprits that carried of the dreaded chytrid fungus. It’s not really their fault. In everywhere except their African home, they were used as lab animals. They were used as part of a pregnancy test. The problem is not with them carrying the fungus, but rather with the irresponsible people who have released them outside their normal environment.
Finally, there is Poncherello Pegone Pixiefrog, our African Bullfrog (Pyxicephalusadsperus). “Ponch” is named for the mayor on the cartoon My Gym Partner’s a Monkey., who is also a Pixie, or African Bullfrog. We adopted him from a breeder because he appears to be blind in one eye and the breeder did not want him. Ponch eats thawed mice off tongs, usually one or two a week. He is also a regular in our programs, having traveled to 14 states since we got him two years ago. While our other frogs are kept in our entrance hallway (Our facility is not air conditioned), Ponch loves the heat and his aquarium is kept in our snake and lizard room, where the high ambient temperature helps him with digestion.
We hope to see you some time in the future…
About Keith Gisser:
Keith caught a toad (Anaxyrus ssp) when he was nine and his herpetology career began. He has presented Herps Alive! an award-winning, nationally recognized interactive reptile and amphibian program based in Ohio, at over 170 college campuses and hundreds of other venues in 39 states.
Gisser, who has been a herpetology educator for over thirty years and currently maintains about 140 reptiles, amphibians and crocodilians, nearly all of which are adoptions or rescues, about half of which are used in his programs. The rescue and adoption mission has taken more and more of his time and efforts in recent years and will soon be “spun off” as the Herps Alive! Foundation, which is in the process of seeking non-profit status and accreditation as a rescue.
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.
University of Michigan mycologist Tim James and colleagues conducted a genetic analysis and have found that the global trade of live bullfrogs is helping to spread the deadly chytrid fungus, which has devastated worldwide amphibian populations. The results were published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
As Revkin notes, it isn’t clear why the fungus is devastating to amphibians in some areas, but seems to be harmless to those in other areas. For example, although there are deadly strains in the Northeast, there are no chytrid-related declines reported. Environmental conditions or other issues might account for this.
The researchers examined the role of bullfrog farming in spreading the chytrid fungus between the forests and frog farms of Brazil and then to the United States and Japan. They collected and analyzed bullfrogs sold at Asian food shops in seven U.S. cities and found that 41 percent of the frogs were infected with chytrid fungus, which is harmless to humans. Frogs in these shops are imported live primarily from farms in Taiwan, Brazil and Ecuador and sold as food for their legs.
“A lot of the movement of this fungus is related to the live food trade, which is something we should probably stop doing,” James said. “We don’t need to have millions of live frogs being shipped from foreign countries into the United States.”
We were happy to learn that a few days ago the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to designate two species of native yellow legged frogs inhabiting high-elevation lakes in the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountain ranges as threatened and endangered species under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The commission acted after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition outlining the decline.
photo courtesy National Park Service. Department of the Interior
According to the Center, the population of Sierra Yellow legged frogs has decreased by 75% in recent decades. Reading about these frogs, we were struck by how they are a symbol of the challenges that frogs face worldwide. But they aren’t facing one challenge—they seem to be facing almost all of them:
Introduction of nonnative species: Stocking of nonnative trout in high-elevation Sierra lakes has been the main cause of the species’ decline. The trout eat tadpoles and juvenile frogs and alter the food web of the aquatic ecosystems on which the native frogs depend. The Department is recommending no trout stocking in the state without a fish management plan, and no further stocking of trout in areas that would conflict with protecting yellow-legged frogs.
Pesticides: Recent research has linked pesticides that drift from agricultural areas in the Central Valley to declines of native amphibians in the Sierra Nevada. Pesticides and other pollutants can directly kill frogs and also act as environmental stressors that render amphibians more susceptible to diseases, including a chytrid fungus that has recently ravaged many yellow-legged frog populations.
Loss and degradation of habitat: Grazing, logging, water diversions, off-road vehicles and recreational activity are allowed in frog habitat.
Climate change: Climate change has brought warmer temperatures, decreases in runoff, shifts in winter precipitation in the Sierra from snow to rain, and habitat changes that are rendering frog populations more vulnerable to drought-related extinction events.
A recent settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which will also speed protection decisions for 756 other species, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 to make a decision about whether to add the Sierra frog to the federal endangered list.
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: