Amphibians are the most endangered vertebrate group, with more than a third of the 6600 known species threatened with extinction. Addressing their extinction crisis is thought to be one of the greatest conservation challenges ever faced.
Amphibians include frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and the worm-like caecilians. Loss of habitat is an ongoing threat, but for these delicate creatures with soft, permeable skin and a lifecycle split between land and water, infectious disease has become the most urgent threat to address.
The silent march of chytrid fungus across the continents of the world has brought many frog species to the brink of extinction and may have contributed to the final demise of the 150 or more species thought to have become extinct in the past twenty-five years.
Chytrid fungus invades the skin of amphibians and fatally disrupts their water balance. In many cases, the disease is decimating amphibian populations in otherwise pristine habitat and so conventional conservation techniques in the wild alone will not help to save these species from extinction.
Zoos play a crucial role in the fight to save amphibians and are the last hope for many threatened species. Specially constructed amphibian laboratories called ‘A-Pods’ house threatened amphibian species which are part of conservation breeding programmes. We not only lead ex-situ research on new technologies and breeding techniques for these species, but are also ensuring we have safety net populations for potential reintroduction of animals back to the wild in the future.
Strengthening the bridge between our skills with needs in the field is vitally important in ensuring the long term survival of the species we work with, and we collaborate with various local governments and partners. We support field monitoring and research projects for some very rare and unusual frogs in the wild, including the critically endangered golden mantella in Madagascar and mountain chicken from Montserrat and Dominica.
But we need your help to continue our work to fight to protect these species into the future.
We have been supporting Molly Bletz, a PhD student, with her research into using probiotics to help frogs survive the deadly ‘chytrid’ fungus.
Here’s the final part of ‘Mangabe or bust’ from Chester Zoo’s lower vertebrates and invertebrates team manager, Ben Baker.