Is your zoo an amphibean refuge?


Photo courtesy of spisharam at Flickr.com.

Despite what the Chinese zodiac says, 2008 is officially the year of the frog. Nearly 6,000 frog species are threatened with extinction, and there’s no time like the present to take action.

Frogs are under intensive pressure – they face massive habitat loss, pesticide poisoning and even human predation. As if those dangers weren’t enough, a previously unknown fungus recently began attacking frogs. This fungus has an extremely high mortality rate – after Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is introduced, 50% of amphibian species and 80% of individuals generally die within 1 year. Think of it as Kermit Ebola.

It’s likely that the spread of Chytrid Fungus is caused by human activity. Chytrid Fungus is moving along with global trade, and the problem is developing at a much faster rate than previous infections. Dutch Elm Disease took nearly 30 years to cross from Europe to the United States, while Chytrid Fungus took roughly 20 years to cross from the US to Europe. The pathogen wasn’t even identified in the lab until after it had spread to virtually every country in the world. Globalization has something to do with this, but the deadly fungus is also getting a boost from global warming..

“Climate change is making for cooler days and warmer nights due to changes in cloud cover on the tropical mountains,” [says Alan Pounds, an ecologist at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica]. This shifts temperatures to those more agreeable to the fungus, which thrives between 17°C and 25°C. “Global warming is loading the dice in favour of this disease-causing fungus,” he says.

There is good news, though. An effective treatment has been found using over-the-counter antibiotic cream. This means that wherever frogs can be reached, they can be treated to cure infection. Several zoos and botanical preserves are working with the group Amphibean Ark to create refuges for wild frog populations. The idea is to treat incoming frogs and create a biosecure area in case the frogs go extinct in the wild.

Is your zoo taking part? You can petition them to get with the program, and raise awareness about the issue. Several zoos, such as the Denver Zoo, have found big money in frog preservation. These programs are extremely effective at raising donations and improving visitor turnout. Kids love cute frogs – and this is a way to make sure that frogs are around for our grandchildren!


Photo courtesy of shadowowl at Flickr.com.

Zoo programs are already having unexpected results. The Memphis Zoo has found a new way to preserve the endangered Mississippi gopher frog. They’ve introduced a program to save the species using in-vitro fertilization. With only about 100 adults left in the wild, the zoo has spawned a batch of 94 viable tadpoles. That’s an amazing result!