In Search of the Lost Frog of Colombia
From The Telegraph
By Lucy Cooke
I am looking for a lost frog. The Mesopotamian beaked toad, to be precise, which has been missing for almost 100 years. The last person to see it, an American biologist, Gladwin Noble, was also the man who discovered it. I wonder whether the fact that it has been mislaid for so long has anything to do with the misleading name he gave it, which suggests we should be looking under rocks in Turkey instead of scrabbling through leaf litter, as we are, in the Colombia jungle.
The reality is that this toad is just one of thousands of amphibians vanishing off the face of the planet. These cold-blooded creatures are in the grip of the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out, with more than a third of all species now fighting for survival. In many cases they are disappearing rapidly, largely because of the holy trinity of environmental bogeymen: climate change, pollution and habitat loss – and also a killer fungus that attacks their skin, preventing it from absorbing essential salts and causing cardiac arrest.
My quest begins in Medellín, Colombia‘s second largest city, where I join a team of four leading international herpetologists who have been dispatched here to track down the elusive beaked toad as part of the charity Conservation International’s global search for lost frogs. Over the next few months there will be expeditions in 18 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia to track down 100 amphibians believed to be missing in action. Many are evolutionary oddities, distinct in their class, such as the gastric brooding frog of Australia, which incubates its young in its stomach. Their loss is significant, not only to nature but also to science. The hope is that this campaign will uncover secret populations still clinging on in pockets of wilderness that can then be conserved.
‘Colombia is frog central,’ the expedition leader, Dr Robin Moore, says. ‘With nearly 800 recorded species, it almost certainly has the highest diversity. Brazil officially has a few more, but it’s seven times the size of Colombia and more thoroughly surveyed. The exciting thing about this country is that so much of it has yet to be explored.’
For more information about Colombia, visit us at www.discovercolombia.com.