Rare Rainbow Toad Rediscovered after 80 Years

Conservation International has announced the rediscovery in Malaysian Borneo of a vanished amphibian: the long-legged Borneo rainbow toad. Below is one of the first photographs ever of this long-legged brightly colored toad.

Photo © Indraneil Das, courtesy Conservation International

Inspired by Conservation International’s (CI) Global Search for Lost Amphibians, scientists with support from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak found three individuals of the missing toad species, up a tree during a night time search after months of scouring remote forests.

The Sambas Stream Toad, or Bornean Rainbow Toad (Ansonia latidisca) was last seen in 1924. Prior to the rediscovery,  the mysterious and long-legged toad was known only by illustrations. The rare toad was listed by Conservation International as one of the World’s 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs, in a global campaign to seek out amphibians that have not been seen in a decade or longer.

Dr. Indraneil Das of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and his team searched at night along the high rugged ridges of the Gunung Penrissen range of Western Sarawak. They did not find the elusive toad after searching for several months, but the team didn’t give up. Dr. Das eventually changed his team’s strategy to include higher elevations and they resumed the search. Pui Yong Min, one of Dr Das’s graduate students, found a small toad up a tree.  When he realized it was the long-lost toad, Dr. Das expressed relief at the discovery:

Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species. They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering, which is why targeted protection and conservation is so important. Amphibians are indicators of environmental health, with direct implications for human health. Their benefits to people should not be underestimated.

Amphibian specialist Dr. Robin Moore of Conservation International, who launched the Global Search for Lost Amphibians to raise awareness of the serious plight of the world’s declining amphibian populations, also expressed disbelief when Das shared the good news. As he said, “It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet’s escalating extinction crisis. “

The Global Search for Lost Amphibians, launched by Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), with support from Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), sought to document the survival status and whereabouts of threatened species of amphibians which they had hoped were holding on in a few remote places.

The search  took place between August and December 2010 in 21 countries, on five continents, and involved 126 researchers. It represented a pioneering effort to coordinate and track such a large number of “lost” amphibians. The goal was to establish whether populations have survived increasing pressures such as habitat loss, climate change, and disease, and to help scientists better understand what is behind the amphibian crisis.

After 80 years, the rainbow toad is most definitely ready for his/her close up:

Photo © Indraneil Das, courtesy Conservation International

Read more about Conservation International’s Search for Lost Frogs.