Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday's Species in Peril

Since this blog was created to provide education to our readers about the plight of Herps. throughout the World, I thought it only appropriate that we dedicate one day a week to an Amphibian or Reptile that is classified as threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild. Unfortunately there will be plenty to choose from. Many of us do not think of Herps. when we think of endangered animals, instead our thoughts turn to animals such as Bald Eagles, Manatees or Tigers. Each of these animals are facing challenges to be sure, but because of their over all human appeal they have a dedicated following of people trying to help their plight. Herps. on the other hand are often overlooked by the average person. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people make comments like "the only good snake is a dead snake" or another "I wish all snakes were dead." What these people do not realize or seem to care about, is that these snakes that they fear or hate so much are an important component in their varied habitats. Snakes are excellent at controlling over population of rodents, and they are also an important food source for many predators. Frogs are often over looked as anything more than just a cute little inhabitant of pond and lakes. The truth is, frogs are an indicator of the over all health of an ecosystem. Scientist often rely on frogs to help them solve any number of environmental mystery's concerning pollution and other contaminants. We need to change our attitudes about these often misunderstood and overlooked creatures. We should respect their role in the environment and do our best to understand and tolerate their presence.

Today's first featured species in peril is the Kihansi Spray Toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis) which was found and first described in 1998 and subsequently declared extinct 14 short years later in 2012.

This tiny toad has been declared extinct in the wild on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This species had a very limited and specific habitat in the spray runoff and nearby wetland of  Kihansi Falls in the Kihansi Gorge in the Udzungwa Mountains of eastern Tanzania. With approximately a 5 acre area to inhabit it was very restricted and became victim to habitat loss and destruction. This often happens to animals with very specified habitat needs. They do not have the ability to readily adapt to a new or altered environment and often become critically endangered or in the case of this little toad they become a thing of the past in the wild. At one point in time this toad had as many as 17,000-20,000 individuals in its 5 acre range. These toads are truly small at only 3/4 of an inch as adults. This species has no tadpole stage, instead the female gives birth to 3-15 tiny toadlets. They will gain the adult coloring as they age, but otherwise look almost identical to their adult counterparts.

Animals with reduced habitats often fall victim to parasites, diseases or other health related issues. If these diseases are brought into a given environment, a species that is as fragile as a toad would stand very little chance of having adequate resources to fight it. This toad was exposed to a fungal disease called chytridiomycosis which is known to affect at least 30% of the amphibian species worldwide. In the wild this fungus cannot be controlled and often wipes out a 100% of a frog or toad population in a given area. Then in the year 2000 a dam was built on the Kihansi river which reduced water flow by 90% to the gorge where this toad is native. These frogs rely on the spray given off by the water falls of this area, with the building of the dam and the resulting  flow restriction of the river, the falls no longer create significant spray. This affects the vegetation around the falls which in turn affects the toad. This little toad was dealt a double whammy with the loss of habitat and a fungal disease it had no ability to fight off. The tiny 5 acre area that was home to this toad was so severely altered that the toad gave way to the challenges of a newly formed habitat. It could no longer survive in the wild. The only hope this toad has as a species is in captive breeding programs that are under way at the Toledo and New York Bronx Zoos. Educational programs are in place and the people of Tanzania are being taught proper husbandry techniques in order to rebuild a sustainable habitat for these toads with the hope of being able to begin releasing them back to their natural habitat.

No comments:

Post a Comment