EXCLUSIVE: After 50 years, scientists finally find 'extinct' Zimbabwe frog

2017-01-21 13:00
Picture: Francois Becker

Picture: Francois Becker

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Harare - Scientists working in a remote part of eastern Zimbabwe have discovered a frog previously feared to be extinct. 

The cave squeaker (Arthroleptis troglodytes) hadn't been seen for more than half a century in the rock-studded Chimanimani mountains it was known to inhabit.

The tiny frog only grows to around half the size of a thumb.

Robert Hopkins, an associate researcher with the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, said he and fellow scientists Francois Becker from the University of Cape Town and Zimbabwean entomologist Scott Herbst, managed to find three cave squeakers during a research trip in early December. 

The frogs were located through their unusual calls - but they weren't at all where the researchers expected to find them, Hopkins told News24.

Conservation strategy

"Francois had done a great deal of work on (similar species) in South Africa, and had paid particular attention to their calls," Hopkins said. "He heard a call which he recognised as that of an Arthroleptis, but did not or could not identify it, so he tracked that call and ultimately found the first specimen."

Hopkins said researchers have been looking for the frog near water, which is where they were first (and last) seen in 1962.

But in fact it turns out that that is not where they breed.

"Our (latest) finds place the breeding sites away from water, and certainly not at any time in caves or sink holes," Hopkins said. The research trip to Chimanimani was supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

Hopkins says breeding the frogs in his laboratory in Bulawayo and releasing them back into alternative places in the wild is one conservation strategy he, together with Zimbabwe's National Parks Authority, is considering.

Sadly, Don Broadley, the renowned Zimbabwean herpetologist who first discovered the cave squeaker in 1962 and had tried but failed to relocate it, died last year just months before this rediscovery. Broadley was "the greatest herpetologist in the world", said Hopkins.

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  conservation
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