Raising the Rarest

Jambato harlequin frog, Atelopus ignescens (C) Luis Coloma

Some of the rarest high altitude-living amphibians are on the very brink of extinction. In fact, some were thought to have already become extinct, but in recent years have miraculously been rediscovered. These rarest species pose conservationist with the greatest challenge and applied dedication in supporting their survival. Any success with their endeavours offer great reward.

High altitude toads are amongst the most severely threatening amphibians on the planet. These include members of the Genus, Atelopus – Harlequin frogs. The Jambato harlequin frog (Atelopus ignescens), which was once widespread in Ecuador, is a very good example.

As with many other highland species, it suddenly disappeared, with a combination of climate change and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis considered the culprit for its extinction. Never to be seen again………….until last year that is!

Amplectant pair of A. ignescens in the lab (c) Luis Coloma

My committed amphibian conservation colleague, Luis Coloma, was the perfect person to take on the task of getting individuals from the wild to reproduce in the lab, in a critical effort to save the species for the future. Luis, had been busy perfecting the breeding of other rare harlequin toads in his lab, with great success.                                                           Even after species such as the famous Golden Toad of Costa Rica became extinct in just one year, after previously being numerous and no one collecting any specimens to ensure their continued survival, some people are still reluctant in acknowledging that captive breeding offers the only real ‘safety net’ for wild populations threatened with imminent extinction. Luckily, captive breeding is now recognised by most people as being an important tool against extinction, and maybe the last resort for some species. For many many months Luis has tried to get A. ignescens to breed in his lab, and also in outdoor enclosures replicating their natural environment.

Developing embryos of A. ignescens (c) Luis Coloma

Well, finally he and his team have succeeded!  A pair laid eggs, the eggs hatched, the tadpoles are doing well, and all are feeding properly until now… The next big step, and tremendous challenge, will be raising the tiny metamorphs that emerge.  We in Manchester share his challenge with some of the rare species we are committed to supporting the conservation of.

Working together, sharing our experiences, and fine tuning the high level of detail of such work is crucial for this exacting area of amphibian conservation. We wish Luis and his team well in their endevour, and honour their dedication to saving one of the world’s most endangered species.

Read more about this story in New Scientist

Centro Jambatu

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