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St. Louis Zoo to the Harlequin Toad Rescue

A species of Harlequin Toad (Photo by Luis Coloma)

The St. Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute is drawing attention to an endangered group of frogs.

Also known as stubfoot toads, harlequin toads represent a beautiful, but vanishing frog taxon from Central and South America.

The Zoo has partnered with Ecuador’s Jambatu Center for Research and Conservation of Amphibians to help conserve some of South America’s most imperiled amphibians, including the harlequin toads.

According to a St. Louis Zoo spokesperson, “Most of the harlequin frog species are listed as critically endangered and endangered with a very high risk of extinction—a problem faced by as much as half of the planet’s more than 6,000 amphibian species.”

Recently, the two collaborating zoological organizations were awarded nearly $25,000 dollars from the USFWS to build a breeding and captive management facility dedicated to harlequin toad conservation on the Jambatu Center’s Ecuadorian campus.

Westerners often think of the bufonids, the true toads (Family: Bufonidae) as robust and drab-colored terrestrial frogs. Among the cosmopolitan genus Bufo, which comprises 150 species—many are, indeed, robust and drab-colored. In fact, with the exception of professional herpetologists and other herpetophiles, Bufo species don’t typically draw “oohs” and “aahs” from anyone. Harlequin toads from the genus Atelopus, do, however. This vibrantly colored group of bufonids is particularly attractive.

Unfortunately, harlequin toads are disappearing right in front of our eyes.

The Zoo spokesperson said, “The grant will go toward building an additional frog building with frog rooms, feeder insect room and meeting/office space to help save eight species of harlequin frog from extinction through breeding and management.”

Ecuador is lucky to have one of the world’s finest amphibian biologists, Dr. Luis Coloma, as a resident. With the world’s amphibian populations in drastic decline, the Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute made a decision to support Dr. Coloma and his ongoing program dedicated to the conservation and sustainability of Ecuadorian amphibians,” says Mark Wanner, Saint Louis Zoo Zoological Manager of Herpetology & Aquatics.”

“Centro Jambatu is a great example of scientific research, captive breeding and strong collaborative effort to ensure species survival,” he adds. “Due to the factors affecting wild amphibian populations today these assurance colonies become the last hope for many unique amphibian species.”

The harlequin toad, like many other neotropical amphibians is at risk namely because of a fungal disease, which also plagues amphibian populations worldwide.