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The Philadelphia Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Program is dedicated to saving endangered amphibians through research, local capacity-building and the establishment of captive breeding programs both at the Zoo and in the field. We work with endangered amphibians from the Caribbean and Andean regions and undertake basic conservation and ecological research of these amphibian populations with the help of local researchers and villagers.
We work closely with many partners, including Amphibian Ark, ALPZA (Latin American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums), and local museums and governments to find suitable partners and establish new programs that meet our conservation goals.
The Philadelphia Zoo established the Amphibian Conservation Program in 2008 with the purpose of saving some of the 500 amphibian species threatened with extinction. The Program is a primary vehicle for saving critically endangered species from extinction. At no other time in human history have we faced such a challenge, when so many species were at immediate risk of becoming extinct. Today, amphibians are disappearing more quickly than any other species on Earth.
The five critically endangered harlequin toads studied in our conservation project are seen here. We are breeding the Green Cajas harlequin toad and the Black Cajas harlequin toad at our Amphibian Conservation Center in Ecuador. The Pastaza harlequin toad, thought to be extinct since 1980 and the jambato collarejo, last seen in 1985, were re-discovered by our team on 2009. The colorful Wampukrum is yet to be described by science, however data gathered by our native Shuar field technicians suggest a significant decline in this population, possibly due to the deadly Bd fungus. Another population is under threat from a construction project.
The Caribbean is one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots. This idyllic collection of islands is home to an immense diversity of exceedingly rich biological and cultural forms. Likewise, the Andes, from Venezuela to Argentina, is another threatened biodiversity hotspot. Amphibians are especially diverse in these regions; between the Caribbean and the Andes, there are over 1500 endemic species, or one fourth of the worldwide population. Unfortunately, this mega diversity is threatened from all angles. Amphibians are a key indicator species. A decline in their populations signals a greater threat to the overall health of the ecosystem. Conversion of forests to agriculture, clear cutting for logging and charcoal production are among the biggest threats affecting all wildlife in these regions, especially amphibians. Another major threat to amphibians is the chytrid fungus. The fungus is the cause of the disease known as chytridiomicosis, which only affects amphibians and has already eliminated entire amphibian communities. The fungus is blamed for the recent extinction of more than 200 species of amphibians worldwide.
Overall, there are more than 300 amphibian species in the Caribbean and the Andes at immediate risk of extinction. There are also a number of local, regional and international institutions interested in saving these endangered creatures that are trying to actively find ways to revert and mitigate the causes of amphibian decline, mainly habitat destruction and the threat of the chytrid fungus.
We carry our educational message to those that hold the greatest power to effect the changes needed in order to preserve the habitat where our endangered amphibians are found. We work closely with the children living in rural communities, often times within the protected areas were many endangered amphibians are found. Here a group of Shuar children learn about endangered amphibians in their native Cordillera del Condor National Park in Ecuador.
Amphibians throughout the world are facing unprecedented rates of population declines and extinction and that nowhere is this crisis more prevalent than in Haiti, where 54 of the 58 amphibian species recorded for the country may become extinct if nothing is done to prevent it. In Haiti, deforestation and habitat degradation are the main drivers of amphibian extinction, which means that the country is not only losing its amphibians, but is also at risk of losing its entire natural heritage.
On September 26, 2012, the Philadelphia Zoo held a day-long meeting between key players from the Zoo, the Pennsylvania State University, the Government of Haiti, and the local organizations Société Audubon Haiti and Quisqueya University to devise a long term collaborative plan to conserve Haiti’s vanishing amphibian diversity. This Haitian delegation was invited to observe our captive colony of Haitian frogs and to formalize a long-term collaboration and promote cooperative programs between us.
The main purpose of the meeting was to create a strategic plan for the Conservation of Critically Endangered frogs of Haiti to fulfill the following goals:
This is our first formal meeting between these parties and it is part for an ambitious, multi-year plan that incorporates long term collaboration that will enable us to fulfill large-scale goals, such as:
It was determined that the project will begin with Dr. Carlos C. Martínez in-country work in Haiti on Monday October 1st. This series of first steps will provide the base line for the future involvement of the Philadelphia Zoo in the conservation of Haiti’s fragile biodiversity.
The steps of this first phase include:
It is not surprising that wildlife in Haiti is in critical condition and amphibian populations are no exception. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are a true biodiversity hotspot. Massif the La Hotte, (see image below) which forms part of the Macaya national Park in Western Haiti, is a world-renowned biodiversity hotspot. This mountain range is home to more than 40 threatened mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and amphibians, the vast majority of which are endemic to Haiti and all of which are endemic to the Island. Thirteen of these species are critically endangered amphibians, all endemic to Haiti. There is no other place in the world with so many endemic amphibians in one place and certainly no place with as many endangered amphibians.
Earlier this year, the Zoo joined an international team of conservation organizations and academic institutions, such as Conservation International and Penn State, to help Haiti’s only local environmental organization, Societé Audubon Haiti, establish a sound, long-term conservation strategy for the country. This strategy tackles the root of the conservation issue in Haiti, which is rampant deforestation. While Societé Audubon Haiti works with villagers living inside and near the Macaya National Park and with government officials to eliminate illegal logging for charcoal while supporting the rural economy and protecting any remaining forest, the Philadelphia Zoo has begun efforts to save ten of the world’s most critically endangered amphibians (four seen below) though ex-situ captive breeding here at the Zoo. Today, we hold 154 live specimens of these ten amphibians and we will breed these frogs to establish assurance colonies of seven of them, with the hopes of reintroducing them back to their native range. We also plan to employ local villagers in data gathering exercises. These activities not only help us gain a better understanding of the amphibian populations, they also provide an alternative to logging for the villagers. The creation of an in-range breeding center and a tree nursery in the country are also under consideration. Our plan is very ambitious, but has all the ingredients for success.
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