Day 8 Blog Entry

Posted: 10/25/2012 12:00:00 AM by Global Administrator

Wildlife conservation has many aspects and fieldwork is only a small part of it. True

 Christiane Delfs from the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit - GIZ’ (German Agency for International Cooperation), the organization that is leading the ‘Exposition sur la biodiversité d'Haïti’, gets input and ideas from the team.
The Tiburón whistling frog’s call has its own place in Haitian folklore, telling people when it’s going to rain, image used with permission and kindly donated by Haitian photographer, René Durocher.
conservation is achieved when we effect change on those that are most closely involved with the plants and animals we are trying to save. One way of doing this is by bringing endangered wildlife and the pressing issues affecting them to the people. This is what many zoo and conservation institutions like us at the Philadelphia Zoo do routinely.

The exhibit, called ‘Exposition sur la biodiversité d'Haïti’, will bring the people of Haiti in contact with its little known and rich biodiversity. It presents a unique opportunity to show Haitians about the fragile ecosystem and what they can do to help protect their own natural heritage. It is also an opportunity to help Haitians connect with world issues and show how their actions can make change at home, empowering them in the process. Since everything goes back to frogs, at least for me, I chose three conservation hot topics that are directly related to amphibians. These are: Frogs and Climate Change, Frogs and Forest Connectivity, and Frogs and Human Perception. All of wildlife, some to a greater degree than others, is negatively affected by these issues, as all of the globe is currently under the impact of a weird and wacky weather, all wildlife (plant, animal, terrestrial, aquatic alike), all wildlife need a healthy and contiguous track of adequate habitat to thrive in, and we can find many actions and behaviors in our daily life that is affected by how we perceive nature. This is not an easy task, since the exhibit is composed of a series of educational panels and interactive set ups that will be used to inform Haitians in the city, in small villages and tourists alike. The panels will be translated to English, French, and Haitian Creole and the language has to be such that it is informative, engaging and of easy reach without loosing its scientific accuracy. This is particularly complicated when you have these unique mix of languages.

Here’s what I have so far for the three exhibits I am collaborating on:

Frog and Climate Change - Do you know there are over 60 different kinds of frogs in Haiti? Most are found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, we are losing them because they are loosing their homes. Most of the forests in Haiti are gone and the ones we have might not be good homes for frogs. Do you know why? Have you noticed that climate is now crazy? It rains when it is not supposed to rain, you have hot days when it is supposed to be cool and sometimes, when it rains it really pours! This is a worldwide problem; the weather is changing everywhere and not just here in Haiti. Humans all over the world are releasing too much carbon dioxide gas into the air. This gas is found in the exhaust from cars, taptaps (local buses) and factories, smoke from burning forests and in many other places. Just like the jacket you wear when it is too cold, carbon dioxide gas in the sky keeps the earth warm by trapping heat; making it hotter and hotter and we are making this jacket thicker and thicker, making the climate warmer and causing rain to be unpredictable, so it may flood or we may have drought. You may ask, why is this related to frogs? It is already bad enough for me! I don’t want it to be hotter and I don’t want my home to flood! Well most of the unique frogs in Haiti live in the mountains of Massif de la Hotte, including the Macaya breast-spot frog, and frogs from Massif de la Selle, like are adapted to the cooler temperatures of those mountains. If it is hotter here in town, it is also hotter up in the mountain and the frogs that need cool temperatures, will have nowhere to go once their home becomes too hot and will disappear forever!

FROGS and Forest Connectivity - What makes frog unique? We know they all hop, jump and walk very funny, but that is far from unique. Frogs are unique because their skin is moist and full of chemicals that keep them safe. Some chemicals alert other animals that they taste bad or protect them against dry climates and the sun. Frogs are also unique because males call out to females and each kind of frog has its own distinct call. Another thing that makes frogs unique is that they depend on water and on moist environments to live. They can’t be out and about in full light and in the open soil or they’ll dry up like a raisin! This means that in order for frogs to survive they need a continuous patch of the right habitat where they can find a moist cool place close to home. They can’t travel far from where they were born, so if their home gets destroyed they cannot travel to a new home and it their forest is isolated, because there is no more forest around them, they cannot travel to another forest to find other frogs and will be trapped and will eventually disappear. Forest in different parts of the country need to be connected with each other by patches of protected areas that will serve as roads for frogs and other animals to travel along.

Frogs and Human Perception - Are frogs good or bad? Why are they always depicted alongside witches and foul characters in stories, but at the same time if a princess kisses a frog it becomes royalty? This is a contradiction that goes way back in modern history and even today scientists’ and biologists’ perception of frogs is biased. People are not even sure about why frogs call or what sounds they make. Most people recognize the ‘ribbit-ribbit’ as the quintessential frog call, but only one kind of frog produces the famous ‘ribbit’ call. Can you guess who calls like this and why it is so famous? Well, these calls are made by the Pacific chorus frog, a species of frog that lives near Hollywood. The first frog calls used in Hollywood movies came from recordings made of Pacific chorus frogs calling in a ditch nearby some studio in southern California and almost a hundred year later, sound clips of this frog are still being used over and over to represent the calls of frogs from all over the world. In reality, each frog species has its unique call, which males use to attract females and communicate their territorial boundaries to other males.

One interesting case is the Tiburón whistling frog from Haiti. Its calls ‘co-co-lee’, resembles the Haitian Creole phase 'pral sèl lapli', which translate to 'it's going to rain'. People in Haiti equate that call with the fact that it is going to rain soon; so in a way the frog is communicating to Haitians when the rains will come. However, if you ask around, most Haitians believe that an anole lizard makes those calls, which is false. Most lizards are mute and some like a monitor lizard or iguana may hiss at a predator, or a gecko may give out its squeaky calls at night, but those uncommon. However, male frogs call as often as they can during the breeding season trying to find a mate. If you go searching at night for calling frogs in Haiti, the chances of finding a lizard sleeping atop the same leaf where a frog is calling are greater than actually finding the calling frog. Most anole lizards sleep on the tips of leaves and branches, hiding in plain sight so they can be awaken by vibrations from a moving predator trying to get them and scuttle off. Frogs on the other hand, usually call at night from protected places where females can find them, but where they are out of the reach of hungry bats and other predators that can also detect their calls. Many species of anole lizards and frogs share similar habitat here in Haiti, so it is very likely to find one next to the other at night. A sleepy Caribbean lizard going to bed to the sound of a frog’s lullaby.

Frogs Frog
Egg clutch of the La Hotte land frog. This very prolific species inhabits mixed pine, broad leaf, tree fern forests at elevations over 2,000 meters in the coldest regions of Massif de la Hotte. Global warming will negatively impact this species.  A newly hatched Mozart’s frog.If the last remaining patches of forest connecting pristine areas are destroyed, the habitat will be fragmented and populations will be isolated. Frogs will not be able to find new places to live and forage, especially newly hatched individuals.