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Empty-handed, but heart-filled!

Finding the Rarest Frog in the World

Well, now I am back from that fabulous trip to Costa Rica I am hoping that people realised it was never really about finding an elusive Golden Toad.  But instead, I think I found something much more valuable to me personally. As I lay in my bunk on the last night before heading out of Monteverde Cloud Forest, after us triumphantly finding a trio of rare Isthmohyla rivularis specimens, including the gravid female, I wasn’t sleeping quite as soundly as you might think. I had dreamt of finding a pair of these frogs for so long, and here I was with the perfect opportunity to initiate a captive breeding programme for the species. But when I woke, in my heart, I knew I would rather leave them in the wild where they belonged than ever see them in captivity. I love animals, and have a passion for amphibians that has been with me from as early as I can remember. I have long believed that captive breeding was a way to save these wonderful creatures from extinction, but this year, that night, something inside me changed. I now believe that the only place for wild animals is in the wild. So I came back empty handed. Just to know that those beautiful, very special frogs will probably be calling tonight, in Monteverde, and that the female may have spawned in that crystal clear stream, fills me with more happiness than you might ever realise.

emply-handed, but the smile says it all!

emply-handed, but my smile says it all!



The other thing to come out of the amazing trip for me has been the realisation that there are many more committed individuals in Costa Rica who are passionate about the conservation of these and other rare frogs than I had thought. All the people I had the pleasure of sharing this trip with were particularly exceptional in that respect, Mark, Alex, all the guards that joined us, and colleagues at both the Monteverde Rainforest League and the Tropical Science Centre. The early part of the trip, which was spent filming frogs at The Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre with my friend Brian Kubicki, was also very special. Brian was carefully raising some Anotheca spinosa, a rare tree hole dwelling species, from tadpoles to small froglets, in-situ. This ensures that most survive rather than perish, and that the young get the head start they need for a life in the wild. Brian’s attitude, knowledge, experience, and real hard work never fails to impress me – he is a true inspiration. I cannot speak highly enough of this guy and the commitment and effort he continues to put into real amphibian conservation.     See also BBC link: Whats next for Costa Rican Frogs: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7612961.stm

Brian Kubicki

Brian Kubicki



4 Responses

  1. Well, congratulations in your trip to the best country in the world. All I have to say that golden frogs are not the best thing in life. As you said, the best things in life are just staring at all beauty and stand in awe.

    Frogs may be extinct, beauty will remain forever.


  2. Hi Andrew
    I’ve read this piece a few times now and more and more I am curious as to what made you decide to leave Isthmohyla rivularis in Costa Rica…you mention you had long thought that captive breeding was the way to conserve them but on that night you had a change of heart…what brought that about? And do you anticipate involving yourself more in ex-situ activities in the future?
    As someone who is involved with in-situ conservation at the museum do you still intend to keep on with such work long term? Or do you feel that perhaps ex-situ is the best way forward for amphibian conservation?
    The issue to what extent in-situ ot ex-situ activities are likely to best serve the future of these species is one that intrigues me greatly. Particularly as I am very passionate about the importance of education, particularly of children, in ensuring the future conservation of species. It is possibly easier to gain interest in such breeding programmes when they are done in zoos/museums etc and people can see the fruits of such labours first hand. With ex-situ I guess it may be a little harder to get people to support activities they will never see the results of first hand! I don’t know what your thoughts on that are?
    Anyway whatever the future holds I know with people like yourself involved the preservation of the worlds amphbian populations are in good hands

    • Hi Louise, sorry for the delay but been away this past week. I would be happy to elaborate on why I decided it was best to leave the rivularis specimens where they were last year. I used to be a big believer in captive breeding, but because it has recently become apparent that these animals can never go back to the wild, due to the risk of spreading pathogens, I firmly believe that conservation efforts for some critically endangered species is best done in-situ.

      I really think wild animals belong in the wild. However, I think employing many different conservation strategies are useful, and it all depends on the individual species in question and the threat to the wild population, as to which are potentially more appropriate and effective. For example, the previous year, I was given permission to collect a few tadpoles of Lithobates vibicaria from the last known breeding site. Although the species is critically endangered, the size of the breeding aggregation we found at the pond was absolutely huge, with hundreds of adults and tens of thousands of tadpoles and eggs. The scene reminded me of when the golden toad was last photographed, but by the next year had disappeared. In the wild, far less than 1% of tadpoles ever survive, so the few I collected to act as a ‘safety net’ captive population would have most probably perished. These were all successfully raised into healthy frogs, and as a result of being able to pass these on to Chester Zoo it has facilitated support for a much wider project that now involves monitoring the site, and testing for chytrid. This has also facilitated much publicity for the conservation of other frogs at Monteverde and also support for training of the staff there, further supporting the protection of the wild population. Apart from the educational aspect, we now know more about the frogs from having kept them in captivity – knowledge which can be used to help them in the wild. It turns out the adults are very territorial – so no wonder at some time of year we only very few in one place! Raising the tadpoles has also provided us with the skills that could be applied to ‘head-stating’ should the wild population ever require supporting through the in-situ rearing of tadpoles to young frogs (where 99% can be raised instead of perishing).

      With the Isthmohyla rivularis, it was quite a different story. Although the conservation status of the frog is still critical, with so few adult individuals it was extremely important that they were left where they were. They had survived this long so who was I to deplete what few remained. Instead, I am busy putting together another conservation initiative that will hopefully help protect these wonderful frogs in the wild instead of keeping them in captivity. The project aims to raise funds for monitoring the fragile wild population and hopefully a ‘Frog-pod’ to help them recover by bumping up the wild numbers. Please watch this space for more details of this soon! Everyones involvement in helping with the Isthmohyla rivularis conservation project will be really important and if you would like to get involved personally that would be absolutely brilliant!

  3. Hi Andrew,
    No worries about the delay! Been away myself on a field course to Tenerife….sadly didn’t get to see any frogs…but did do work with the gecko Tarentola delalandii.
    Just to say really that I would absolutely love to get involved with the Isthmohyla rivularis conservation project…so if I can help in any way at all do let me know.
    Hoping to be in manchester one day next week and if so will most definately be visiting the museum.

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