The Race to Save Haiti's 50 Endangered Frog Species From Extinction


Photo credit: Claudio Contreras/iLCP

The devastation and tragedy that has beset Haiti seems to have to limit. Deforestation, mudslides, hurricanes, and the earthquake earlier this year have destroyed what few resources remained there and left the people with no choice but to rebuild their lives from the rubble.

And though the human victims are, understandably, the focus of relief efforts, they are not the only casualties of the recent string of events. Haiti's wildlife hangs on the brink of extinction and, with little to no endemic habitat remaining, have no hope for survival on the island.

Fortunately, a team of biologists has begun a rescue operation to save these threatened animals.
SLIDESHOW: 10 Strange New Frog Species

Biologists from Penn State University, working with the National Science Foundation and the Philadelphia Zoo, have begun the difficult process of capturing live specimens to establish captive breeding programs. The idea is simple: If—and more likely, when—Haiti's forests are completely eroded, these unique frog species will survive in captivity even if they become extinct in the wild.


The La Hotte glanded frog, one of the species recently collected for the captive breeding program. Photo credit: Claudio Contreras/iLCP

Amphibian Conservation Biologist for the Philadelphia Zoo, Carlos Martinez, explained:

A captive-breeding program is a huge responsibility. You have to feed the animals, breed them, and keep them going for years and years, possibly indefinitely...but the survival of these species may depend on this work, so it is well worth the effort.

And the effort required of the zoo is only part of the challenge. Simply collecting enough specimens—captive breeding programs are most successful with at least 30 males and females—requires months of fieldwork, much of which is spent in dense, high-mountain, forests.


The short-nosed green frog, one of the species recently collected for the captive breeding program. Photo credit: Claudio Contreras/iLCP

Though the primary goal of the program is to recover known species—including some that have been "lost" to science for more than 20 years—it has yielded some incredible discoveries: Last year, the team found five new frog species.

While such discoveries are exciting, the underscore the sad fact that the destruction of Haiti's forests signify a loss much deeper than can be imagined.


The Macaya spotted frog, one of the species recently collected for the captive breeding program. Photo credit: Claudio Contreras/iLCP

"I would like to have hope," Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State who is leading the rescue effort, "that the destruction is going to stop and the forests are going to come back, but I have fears about what will happen to the animals and the people of Haiti unless something major is done very soon to resolve the life-threatening problems there."

Read more about Haiti:
A Better, Stronger Haiti: Seven Ways to Make the Recovery Efforts Last
10 Ways to Help the Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts
Haiti: Toxic Waste Dump Site Before the Earthquake, Lucrative Cleanup Contract After
Read more about frogs:
Toads with Big Noses, Fiery Eyes, and More Discovered in Colombia (Photos)
Two Prisoners Raise Endangered Frogs by Hand
Frog Bites Off More Than It Can Chew, Eats Entire Snake

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Endangered Species