A Doomsday Vault for Frogs?
A Doomsday Vault for Frogs?
February 27, 2008
The Amphibian Ark, a doomsday vault for amphibians, will highlight Leap Day, February 29th, to recognize 2008 as the Year of the Frog. The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the global plight of frogs and other amphibians threatened by habitat loss, climate change, pollution and an emergent disease. Joining in the effort is the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium, facilities that house some of the world’s most threatened amphibians.
Roughly one third the world’s 6000 species of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians are threatened with extinction and at least 165 types are believed to have disappeared since 1980. While scientists have yet to identify a smoking gun, climate change, pollution, and the emergence of Chytridiomycosis, a deadly and infectious fungal disease which has been linked to global warming and is blamed for one-third of amphibian extinctions since 1980, are the leading suspects for the observed decline.
Panamanian Golden Frog
Amphibian Ark is “a global initiative to save hundreds of critically endangered amphibians from extinction through captive breeding” in zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens. The coalition is seeking to raise $50-60 million as part of a 5-year $400 million Amphibian Conservation Action Plan to establish captive breeding programs for the 500 most threatened species. Amphibian Ark believes captive management efforts or “ex-situ” conservation can buy critical time for the most vulnerable species.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is supporting the effort by breeding and, in some cases, re-releasing threatened Kihansi spray toads, Rican crested toads, Wyoming toads, and Panamanian golden frogs. WCS’s Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium are also holding special exhibits from Feb. 27th through March 2nd to promote amphibian conservation efforts.
The bigger picture
Scientists say the worldwide decline of amphibians is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns; one that may portend greater threats to the ecological balance of the planet. Because amphibians have highly permeable skin and spend a portion of their life in water and on land, they are sensitive to environmental change and can act as the proverbial “canary in a coal mine,” indicating the relative health of an ecosystem. As they die, scientists are left wondering whether other plant and animal groups will follow.
Amphibian Ark says its effort could help prevent this fate, by saving other endangered animals and demonstrating the role that zoos and other facilities can play in global conservation.
“The crisis provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world that zoos and aquariums are valid and powerful conservation partners. Zoos and aquariums must not stand by and watch hundreds of these exquisite species become extinct in our lifetime — especially when ex situ captive breeding provides a viable, yet simple, solution,” said the alliance in a statement. “If we do not respond immediately and on an unprecedented scale, much of an entire vertebrate class will be lost, and we will have failed in our most basic conservation mission.”