Aquariums, zoos in ‘giant leap’ to save the world’s frogs

2008-02-29 00:00

uShaka Marine world teamed up with zoos and aquariums worldwide yesterday to celebrate "leap day" and highlight the extinction crisis that could obliterate at least a third of the world’s frog species within as little as two years.

This year is not only a leap year, but has been declared the International Year of the Frog by alarmed conservationists who now fear they may not be able to save many of the world’s frog species in time. They have warned that this could result in the largest mass extinction since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

According to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 50% of the world’s 6 000 described amphibian species are in trouble. Thirty four species are definitely extinct while 130 have not been seen in recent years. Conservationists have had to admit that they simply cannot save another 500 species and will have to resort to preserving them in captivity so they are not wiped out altogether.

According to Dr Mark Penning, executive director of the South African Association of Marine Biological Research in Durban, 43% of the world’s amphibian species are declining and 32% are globally threatened.

But how many people will embrace a frog? While many have rallied to the call to save cheetahs, whales and rhinos, frogs tend to have an image problem, according to Penning. The cute Freddies and Kermits aside, they simply don’t create the same warm and fuzzy feeling as cubs and kittens. According to Penning, wiping out a few frogs could have a profound effect. He said that amphibians were good indicators of wetland health and compared them to canaries in coal mines. All this is probably why the world’s zoo keepers believe that 2008 could be the year to throw frogs a lifeline. So far, emergency action has included the creation of an Amphibian Ark or "frog bank".

Zoos and aquariums across the globe — including uShaka Marine World — will collect and breed at least 500 species of frogs that have little or no chance of surviving otherwise. They can be re-introduced back into nature when the time is right and the dangers have been dealt with.

South African scientists, conservationists and froggie friends will gather in Johannesburg in May to map a way forward for South African frogs by identifying species that are particularly vulnerable. Most importantly of all, we’ll become an important part of the world’s Amphibian Ark.

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