2008 Year of the Frog -- State of the Frogs

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Report Shows Successes, Highlights Need for Conservation Efforts to Continue


There is much more work to be done, and it will take many years, but these success stories attest to the key role that zoos and aquariums play in amphibian conservation.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) today released a report on progress made to date on amphibian conservation as zoos and aquariums took up the challenge during 2008, the Year of the Frog.

"AZA is proud of the rapid and significant response of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to save frogs, toads, and salamanders," said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. "There is much more work to be done, and it will take many years, but these success stories attest to the key role that zoos and aquariums play in amphibian conservation."

Zoos, aquariums, and many international partners declared 2008 the Year of the Frog to bring awareness to the plight of the world's amphibians, and to launch an urgent effort to save them. One-third of all amphibians are in danger of extinction, in part because of a deadly fungus spreading rapidly around the globe http://www.amphibianark.org/chytrid.htm.

Since the campaign's launch on Leap Day, February 29, 2008, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and other organizations have joined together to tackle this conservation challenge head-on. Highlights from the State of the Frogs report include:

1.    Mississippi Gopher Frog - Tadpoles (Memphis Zoo)
In February, the Memphis Zoo (Tenn.) used in vitro fertilization to breed the critically endangered Mississippi gopher frog, becoming the first facility ever to do so.

2.    Endangered Puerto Rican Crested Toad Population Grows (Forth Worth Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo, Detroit Zoo)

Only two years into a long-term release program, researchers from the Dallas Zoo (TX) and Fort Worth Zoo (TX) found adult Puerto Rican crested toads in the wild in northern Puerto Rico. These toads originated as tadpoles hatched at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that were released in 2006. This April, the Toronto Zoo (Ontario, Canada) sent an additional 2,600 tadpoles to the island to supplement the population.

In addition to the successes with the northern toad population, Sedgwick County Zoo (KS) and Detroit Zoo (MI) sent 2,600 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to southern Puerto Rico for release in May.

3.    Denver Zoo Builds Lab in Peru

The Denver Zoo (CO) is working with the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru to save the critically endangered Lake Titicaca frog, found on the border of Bolivia and Peru. The Denver Zoo staff is helping the University set up a holding and breeding facility for the frogs to support conservation, ecological, and husbandry-related research. The Denver Zoo is also working with two local Lima zoos to establish frog displays that will educate visitors about the plight of this giant frog.

4.    New Headstarting Programs for the Oregon Spotted Frog (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, Oregon Zoo, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

Listed as an endangered species in Washington State, the Oregon spotted frog is getting a chance to recover its population through a conservation breeding and reintroduction program project spearheaded by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

In early spring of 2008, WDFW biologists and volunteers collected frog egg masses from Oregon spotted frog populations in Washington and several hundred tadpoles have emerged and are being raised at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park (WA) and at Oregon Zoo (OR). The juvenile frogs were released this fall at Fort Lewis and similar efforts will continue for the next five years, with the goal of successfully establishing a new, self-sustaining population of Oregon spotted frogs in Washington. Additional support for this project is being provided by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (WA).

5.    Amphibian Course Brings Kihansi Spray Toads One Step Closer to Tanzania (Bronx Zoo, Toledo Zoo)

In April 2008, the Bronx Zoo (NY) and the Toledo Zoo (OH) took the first step towards sending the critically endangered Kihansi spray toad back to its native Tanzania by bringing two herpetologists from the University of Dar es Salaam to the United States to learn how to maintain and breed the toads. The toad is thought to be extinct in the wild, after construction of a hydroelectric dam, habitat destruction, pesticides, and, likely, the devastating amphibian fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) led to the toad's population collapse. The only known surviving toads live at the Bronx and Toledo Zoos, but plans are in place to send some toads to Tanzania within a year.

6.    Large-crested Toad Has Been Found (Africam Safari)
The large-crested toad, endemic to Mexico and threatened by water pollution, deforestation, and the development of coffee and fruit plantations, was believed to be extinct until rediscovered in 1998 in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. No recent searches had been conducted for this species until February 2008 when Africam Safari (Puebla, Mexico) put together a search group and found tadpoles and metamorphs right where they were in 1998. In May 2008, Africam Safari and the Autonomous University of Puebla signed an agreement to initiate research focused on learning more about the species' biology, relative density, spatial distribution, and habitat characteristics.
7.    Ozark and Eastern Hellbenders Both Experience "First-Evers" (Saint Louis Zoo, Oglebay's Good Zoo)
Ozark Hellbender Successes (Saint Louis Zoo)
Building on the Saint Louis Zoo's (MO) success with the first-ever egg-laying event by a hellbender under simulated natural conditions in October 2007, the zoo continues caring for nine adult Ozark hellbenders and brought in 53 hellbender larvae from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC)-Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery that had been collected as eggs by MDC and Saint Louis Zoo staff, and will be reintroduced to the wild in the future. The Saint Louis Zoo also recently provided 19 captive-reared Ozark hellbenders to the MDC and Missouri State University to conduct radio tracking studies on these individuals in the wild.

Eastern Hellbender Successes (Oglebay's Good Zoo)
In September 2007, after several years of surveys and disease studies in the wild, Oglebay's Good Zoo (WVA) staff hatched out nearly 150 hellbender eggs that were harvested from an abandoned nest in a West Virginia stream, becoming the first zoo in the world to hatch eggs from this species in a zoo setting. Several zoos, including the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (OH), the Fort Worth Zoo (TX), and Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo (NE), are currently assisting with the development of husbandry techniques for the rearing of these larvae, of which 90% will be returned through reintroduction efforts to streams in West Virginia.

8.    Amphibian Rescue and Conservation in Panama (Houston Zoo, Zoo New England)

The Houston Zoo (TX) continues to coordinate amphibian rescue efforts in Panama on behalf of dozens of collaborating AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. The principal focus remains the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), a research, holding, and education facility that supports assurance populations of 57 local amphibian species. Zoo New England (MA) and the Houston Zoo are teaming up to establish a satellite facility at Panama's Parque Natural Summit.

The amphibian fungus Bd continues its devastating spread eastward. In an effort to safeguard some at-risk populations before Bd reaches them, researchers collected amphibians in Bd-free areas in spring 2008. Another spring trip was conducted as part of an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary, The Vanishing Frogs, hosted by Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet. On these trips, more than a dozen newly-metamorphosed harlequin frogs were discovered along the streams of El Cope, a region where the fungal epidemic had reportedly wiped out this species. The finding gives biologists renewed hope in the fight to save declining amphibian populations.

9.    Year of the Frog Campaign Boosts Government-led Amphibian Conservation Programs (San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Fresno Chaffee Zoo)

The 2008 Year of the Frog campaign has elevated awareness about the mountain yellow-legged frog recovery program, resulted in new funding opportunities, and generated many new volunteers to help, according to the U.S. Geological Survey http://www.werc.usgs.gov/index.html. Once common in southern California, mountain yellow-legged frogs are now believed to number between 150-200 individuals spread among eight areas in the San Bernardino, San Jacinto, and San Gabriel mountain ranges. Several factors have contributed to the frog's decline, including non-native trout, airborne pollution, the Bd fungus, and habitat destruction from fires and flooding.

After a fire and during a drought in 2006, several dozen tadpoles were rescued from a drying streambed pool and taken to San Diego Zoo's (CA) center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES) where they metamorphed into 62 young frogs that will be released once habitat conditions improve. This rescue is just one aspect of a collaborative effort between the California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service, and supporting zoos and aquariums, including the San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

10.    The Eleutherodactylus Partnership Project (Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens)

Since acquiring its first coqui, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens (FL) has become a key player in developing husbandry techniques for several species in this genus of tiny frogs. Zoo staff is working with Dr. Rafael Joglar and his students at the University of Puerto Rico to develop husbandry protocols for three critically endangered coqui species, each of which has been affected in the wild by the Bd fungus, as well as two more common species that are living and breeding at the Zoo.

The Zoo's annual Fiesta del Coqui was held September 27-28 and Dr. Joglar and several of his students will attend to raise awareness about the devastating fungus and other factors affecting amphibians worldwide.

The full State of the Frog Report is available at http://www.aza.org/newsroom/PR_sotf/.

To donate online to the AZA Amphibian Fund, please visit https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=22230.

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a nonprofit 501c(3) organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting an institution dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, the AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. To visit the amphibians at a great zoo or aquarium near you, please visit http://www.aza.org.

Courtney Jordan
301-562-0777 ext. 235

Steve Feldman
301-562-0777 ext. 252


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Courtney Jordan

Steve Feldman
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
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