Archive: Detroit Zoological Society Rallies Forces to Fight Global Amphibian Crisis

Leap Day is springboard for increased conservation and public awareness efforts

February 29, 2016

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – In 2001, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) responded to the monumental global crisis facing amphibians in the wild and assumed a leadership role in conservation and research by creating the National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo.  This Leap Day, the DZS is pledging to increase its efforts to reverse the crisis facing amphibians and inviting others to join the fight.

More than 40 percent of the planet’s 6,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, infectious diseases and other factors.  To help stem this decline, the DZS will host a gathering of amphibian scientists and conservationists from around the globe at the National Amphibian Conservation Center to focus on diseases that are causing amphibians to become extinct in the wild.  In addition, ongoing public awareness efforts will include increased community outreach, educational opportunities and special events.

“Amphibians are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.  When hundreds of species of an entire class of animal are in decline, it signals a threat to many other species,” said DZS Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan.  “As the home of the National Amphibian Conservation Center, we remain committed to leading the charge in keeping the amphibian crisis top of mind among the conservation and scientific community and the public.”

When the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center opened in 2001, it was the first major conservation facility dedicated entirely to conserving and exhibiting amphibians.  The award-winning, state-of-the-art amphibian center boasts a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians – prompting The Wall Street Journal to declare the facility “Disneyland for toads”.

The DZS has been a leader in amphibian conservation efforts and engaged in cooperative breeding programs – called Species Survival Plans – for decades through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which is comprised of 230 accredited zoos and aquariums in North America.

Nearly two decades of breeding efforts for the critically endangered Puerto Rican crested toad yielded the best results in the DZS’s history in 2015 with a record 22,571 tadpoles.  Twenty tadpoles were retained for future breeding at the amphibian center while the rest were shipped to Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, for release into the wild.

The DZS’s breeding program for the endangered Wyoming toad produced a record 3,945 tadpoles for release in 2014.  In 2007, this program was No. 1 on the AZA’s list of the Top 10 wildlife conservation success stories.  The breeding partnership has released more than 6,000 tadpoles, toadlets and toads in Wyoming since the program’s inception in 1995.

The DZS has also focused its efforts on endangered amphibians such as the Mississippi gopher frog, Panamanian golden frog, crawfish frog and others.

Since 2010, the DZS has been involved in an assessment of amphibian populations in the Peruvian Amazon.  The project includes field surveys to document species living in several sites along the Amazon and Napo Rivers and testing for chytridiomycosis (chytrid Bd), an amphibian disease that is wiping out amphibian populations throughout South America and other parts of the world.  People living in and around the study sites assist with conducting surveys so they can be a part of conserving their unique and fragile environmental heritage.

Locally, the DZS conducts annual surveys to monitor aquatic salamanders – called mudpuppies – in the Detroit River.  While not a threatened species, mudpuppies are considered good environmental indicators of pollution and other potentially harmful changes in the ecosystem.  The DZS also trains volunteers to participate in FrogWatch, a citizen-science program that teaches them how to identify frogs and toads by their breeding calls and to gather and record data that supports a national network.  Their observations provide valuable insight into whether amphibians in the region are declining or increasing or if new species are being found in areas where they have not been identified before.

“We know about the extinctions and crises amphibians face globally, but we also need to keep tabs on what’s happening in our own backyard.  These programs allow us to monitor native amphibians and make sure their populations are healthy,” said Kagan.