Disease threatens mass extinction of frogs
By Paul Eccleston
An international campaign has been launched to help save the world’s amphibians from extinction.
Scientists fear the largest mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs because of a deadly disease which is sweeping through populations of frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians across the globe.
Amphibians are under threat
Amphibians have thrived for hundreds of millions of years but as many as half of all species could perish unless a solution is found. The spread of the parasitic fungus amphibian chytrid, which has proved deadly for hundreds of amphibian species, may have been made worse by the effects of global warming. The disease has so far proved unstoppable in the wild and can kill 80 per cent of native amphibians within months once it has taken hold.
Amphibians are important as an 'indicator species’ - similar to canaries in a coal mine - who serve as a warning when there is something wrong with the environment. Now 2008 has been designated Year of the Frog by conservationists to raise awareness of the plight of amphibians and to raise the funds needed for a concerted worldwide effort to save them.
The Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP) aims to protect the habitat of the amphibians while at the same time finding answers to the environmental problems they face.
The biggest initiative will be an amphibian version of Noah’s Ark costing an estimated £30m where the most vulnerable species will be moved into protected areas in zoos, aquariums and other institutions around the world so their future survival can be guaranteed.
advertisementThe ambitious rescue plan is being organised by the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
“Widespread extinction of amphibians would be catastrophic,” said Jeffrey P. Bonner, chairman of Amphibian Ark and president and CEO of the St. Louis Zoo.
“In addition to their intrinsic value, they offer many benefits and are a critical part of a healthy world. They play an important role in the food web as both predator and prey, eating insects which benefits agriculture and minimizes disease spread. Their skin also has substances that protect them from some microbes and viruses, offering promising medical cures for a variety of human diseases.
The conservation groups hope the captive management plan will buy time for the most endangered species which will eventually be reintroduced back into the wild once the threats they face have been removed.
It is hoped the Year of the Frog campaign will raise awareness of the crisis among media, educators, corporations, philanthropists and governments and will generate the funding needed to make the campaign a success.
Sir David Attenborough, who is patron of the campaign, said, “The global zoo and aquarium community has taken on this challenge with enthusiasm and is providing appropriate facilities and breeding grounds within their institutions. But implementation calls for financial and political support from all parts of the world. Without an immediate and sustained conservation effort to support captive management, hundreds of species of these wonderful creatures could become extinct in our own lifetime.”
Amphibians are severely affected by habitat loss, climate change, pollution and pesticides, introduced species, and over-collection for food and pets.
Jörg Junhold, Ph.D., chair of the Amphibian Ark Year of the Frog campaign and director of Zoo Leipzig, said: “It is of utmost importance to raise awareness among national governments, world media, school educators, corporations, philanthropists, and the general public about the fragility of amphibians and the enormous responsibility that each of us has in trying to rescue the amphibians in danger.”
“The outcome of the Amphibian Ark project will be that we will have saved hundreds if not thousands of species from extinction. We also will have developed a capacity both within our institutions and globally to continue to provide amphibian species with care and protection when needed, formed a true partnership between offsite and onsite components of conservation, and demonstrated to the world that zoos and aquariums are essential conservation organizations.”