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Conservation Blog

Fota Home to Three of the Top Ten Most Endangered Amphibians

The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), which promotes the values of good zoos, parks and aquariums, has compiled a list of the top ten reptiles and amphibians benefitting from the aid of its members in the UK and Ireland.

Three residents of Fota Wildlife Park’s Tropical House the mountain chicken, Axeloti and the Morelet’s leaf frog have all made it on to the list, which highlights some of the best examples of how zoos, parks and aquariums are safeguarding the future of our planet’s wildlife and their habitats.

Dr Andrew Marshall, of BIAZA’s Field Programmes Committee, who co-ordinated the compilation of the list with input from conservation experts based at BIAZA collections, said: “Zoos are part of a global conservation community. Last year, BIAZA published a report on the top ten mammals most reliant on zoos, which highlighted the work being done by zoos to help safeguard their future. This year, we have focused on ten prevailing examples of reptiles and amphibians that zoos are working to save from extinction.

The list includes some fantastic species, many of which are facing a dramatic decline and are in a desperate situation in the wild.”

The nocturnal lemur leaf frog is able to change colour - from a vivid green in daylight, blending in perfectly to the vegetation it rests on, to a murky brown which allows it to hop around safely in the dark. However, the wild population of this species has fallen by half over the last 15 years.

The axolotl is able to regenerate whole limbs or organs if it needs to but it is vulnerable to water-quality changes and is Critically Endangered mainly due to high levels of pollution in its last remaining stronghold in Mexico.

The top ten list demonstrates the importance of zoos and aquariums not only for conservation breeding of safety-net populations , but also for their contribution to funding and management of conservation projects in the field, including research, education and support for local communities, as well as protection of crucial wildlife habitats.
Strict criteria were used to select the top ten. All the reptiles and amphibians proposed had to be associated with current field initiatives by zoos and/or essential conservation breeding in zoos. Particular importance was given to initiatives which included a management role in the species’ conservation, rather than just providing funds.  Priority was also given to species listed as threatened on the international IUCN Red List of threatened species.

TV presenter and naturalist, Nick Baker is supporting the Top Ten campaign this year to raise awareness of these species and the work zoos are doing in their aid.  Nick says: “Zoos and aquariums have a very important role in this whole thing … at the scariest level they are the ark. They are where the insurance populations of these animals can be looked after and understood and studied. As much as BIAZA are very important in holding the ark population, they are also very important in being that interface between these animals and the public. The problem with these animals is also they are not furry; they do not have an instant appeal to the masses. As a consequence they can get forgotten. The reality is when the zoos show them to the world you are reaching people and spreading that word and getting people to appreciate what these animals are about. What the zoo is doing is taking that money (the pennies the people have spent to enter the zoo in the first place) and applying it directly to try and give these creatures a happy end.”

BIAZA’s top ten reptiles and amphibians most reliant on zoos are:

Axolotl – this Critically Endangered amphibian retains a tadpole-like appearance even as an adult and has the extraordinary ability to regenerate limbs.
Golden mantella – These Critically Endangered frogs don’t croak! Instead males attract females by a series of clicking noises. This bright yellow frog is known for attempting to eat anything that can fit in their mouth, even if the taste is repulsive.
Komodo dragon – there are less than 1000 left in the wild.They are the largest living lizard with males growing up to 3m in length and up to 90kg and females can if necessary reproduce on their own.
Lemur leaf frog – Due to massive habitat loss and the effects of chytrid fungus, this species’ range and its population has declined by over 80% over recent years. An adult lemur frog is only 3 to 4 cm long, it could fit on the end of your finger.
Morelet’s leaf frog – these striking lime-green frogs with a pink or orange underbelly are rapidly disappearing as their forest habitat is destroyed. They have incredible jet black eyes with no discernable iris and wide webbing between their toes which allows them to parachute between trees.
Mountain chicken – One of the largest frogs in the world, this Critically Endangered species is known as a mountain chicken as it is commonly hunted for food.
Orange-tailed skink – These beautifully coloured and highly endangered skinks are not easily found and would be extinct if it weren’t for the help of zoos.
Ploughshare tortoise – one of the most sought after reptiles in the illegal pet trade, this Critically Endangered tortoise can live up to 100 years.
Round Island boa – one of the very few snake species that can change its colour.
Sand lizard – one of the UK’s rarest and most protected lizards.