Sometimes ex-situ conservation like zoo breeding programs are the only hope for species facing extinction. Without such programs, species like the European bison (Bison bonasus), Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and Asian Wild Horse (Equus przewalski) may have been lost forever. These species were once extinct in the wild and now have reestablished wild populations thanks to zoo breeding and reintroduction programs.
Unfortunately when an animal species is critically endangered, that doesn’t automatically mean it will be a good candidate for a conservation breeding program. Some species are just hard to care for or won’t breed in captivity. This was a concern for efforts to save the La Loma Tree Frog (Hyloscirtus colymba), one the many species of frogs around the world being decimated by chytridiomycosis, a disease caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. From the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project:
“We are some of the first researchers to attempt to breed these animals into captivity and we have very little information about how to care for them,” said Brian Gratwicke, international coordinator for the project and a research biologist at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, one of nine project partners. “We were warned that we might not be able to keep these frogs alive, but through a little bit of guesswork, attention to detail and collaboration with other husbandry experts—we’ve managed to breed them. The lessons we’re learning have put us on target to save this incredible species and our other priority species in Panama.”
Success! Though we have a long way to go to save amphibian populations, this is great news. If these frogs are to go extinct in the wild, there may still be hope for their recovery. The project has recently also been succesful at breeding another endangered frog, the Limosa Harlequin Frog (Atelopus limosus). The project aims to save over 20 species of frogs from Panama. You can read more about the project and this story on the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s Blog.
Here is also a great video about the Project, threats to amphibians, and Dr. Brian Gratwicke from the Smithsonian National Zoo. I especially like how Dr. Gratwicke describes conservation biology at the end of the video.