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2008: YEAR OF THE RAT, LEAP YEAR...AND NOW, YEAR OF THE FROG?

By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 12 FEBRUARY 2008- While those celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year mark 2008 as the Year of the Rat, and much of the world attaches mystical significance to 2008 as a leap year, 2008 has also been designated the "Year of the Frog" by the US-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (http://www.yearofthefrog.org/). Joining this effort to educate the public about the global amphibian crisis, the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Friends of the National Zoo have planned several frog-themed programs for the year.

"As leaders in wildlife conservation, amphibian animal husbandry and education, in addition to having millions of people visit every year at the Zoo and through our Web site, we are committed to building a brighter future for our planet's amphibians," said National Zoo Director John Berry

Frogs are going extinct. So are toads, salamanders, newts, and the intriguingly unusual caecilians. In fact, th e World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimates that at least one-third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction.


Dendrobates lehmanni, Red-banded Poison Frog
Photo: Francisco José López
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark

The world conservation community has named 2008 "The Year of the Frog" as a means of raising awareness of the crisis among media, educators, corporations, philanthropists, governments, and the general public, and to generate the $50-$60 million in funding required for Amphibian Ark.

Sir David Attenborough, patron of the 2008 Year of the Frog campaign, said, "The global zoo and aquarium community has taken on this challenge with enthusiasm and is providing appropriate facilities and breeding grounds within their institutions. But implementation calls for financial and political support from all parts of the world...Without an immediate and sustained conservation effort to support captive management, hundreds of species of these wonderful creatures could become extinct in our own lifetime".

Amphibians are severely affected by habitat loss, climate change, pollution and pesticides, introduced species, and over-collection for food and pets. However, while habitat destruction is the major threat, many of the declines and extinctions previously referred to as "enigmatic" are now being attributed to the rapidly dispersing infectious disease chytridiomycosis ("chytrid"). This disease that is deadly to hundreds of amphibian species and is causing population and species extinctions at an alarming rate. . Global climate change may have exacerbated the problem. Currently unstoppable and untreatable in the wild, the fungus can kill 80 percent of the native amphibians within months.


Bombina orientalis, Fire-bellied Toad
Photo: Dirk Petzold
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark

The disease results when a chytridiomycete fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis ("chytrid") attacks keratin in the skin tissue of amphibians. Many researchers believe that this infectious fungus inhibits the frog's ability to respire and osmoregulate, eventually killing the frog.

Chytrid has been implicated in amphibian declines in the Americas, Caribbean, and Australia and its range continues to grow. Chytrid is not the only cause of amphibian decline, but is a likely explanation for unexplained declines in high-altitude, protected regions and may hasten the collapse of populations weakened by other threats such as habitat destruction, climate change, and water and air pollution.

The combined effect of habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, and chytrid cannot be addressed solely in the wild. Captive assurance populations have become the only hope for many species faced with imminent extinction and are an important component of an integrated conservation effort. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, with their demonstrated expertise in endangered species breeding programs, have been called upon to meet this conservation challenge.


Dyscophus guineti, False Tomato Frog
Photo: Joe Chatell
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark Campaign

The IUCN has classified four amphibians in the U.S. to be critically endangered, the Mississippi gopher frog, the Chiricahua leopard frog, the mountain yellow-legged frog, and the Wyoming toad. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed thirty-seven amphibian species under the Endangered Species Act. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums may be their only hope for survival.

In response to the amphibian crisis and as part of the overall Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) prepared by the world's leading conservationists, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has joined with the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group to create Amphibian Ark. Amphibian Ark will develop, promote, and guide short-term captive management of threatened amphibians, making possible the long-term survival of species for which adequate protection in the wild is not currently possible.


Gastrotheca cornuta, Horned Marsupial Frog
Photo: Tania Boniske
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark Campaign

Captive management is a vital component of ACAP's integrated conservation effort, buying valuable time to mitigate threats for species that would otherwise go extinct. Amphibian Ark will bring priority amphibian species into "protective custody" in dedicated biosecure facilities at zoos, aquariums, and other institutions around the world for safekeeping and breeding. These rescued amphibians will be released back into the wild when the original threats have been controlled.

One critically endangered species sustained by the National Zoo is the Panamanian golden frog. This species was driven to extinction in the wild by the parasitic chytrid fungus, which causes neurological damage and death. The National Zoo is one of five zoos in North America to have a significant breeding program for this species - having reared more than 200 Panamanian golden frogs to date - and is only one of nine zoos with this beautiful species on exhibit.


Atelopus zeteki varius 9, Panama Golden Frogs
Photo: Paul Crump
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark Campaign

"It's imperative that the world zoo and aquarium community plays an active role in working to save the planet's critically endangered amphibian species," said Karen Sausman, president of WAZA. "Zoos and aquariums are uniquely suited to assist with the captive management needs of Amphibian Ark, and have the added value of being able to educate the millions of visitors coming through our gates every year about this critical situation. As leading partners in animal conservation, it's both our obligation and our privile ge to help these glorious animals." Those who wish to help amphibians to survive can lend their support by by signing a global petition and contributing to fund this initiative.

Above photo: Galychnis callidryas, Red-eyed Tree Frog
Photo: Gerry Marantelli
Photo courtesy of 2008 Year of the Frog Campaign / Amphibian Ark Campaign

Antoine du Rocher is managing editor of Culturekiosque.com

Travel Tip: Darwin at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto: 8 March - 4 August 2008

External Links

Amphibian Ark Team Portal

World Association of Zoos and Aquariums

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