The Natterjack Toad Project at Fota Wildlife Park
Last month 500 Natterjack toadlets reared in Fota Wildlife Park were released into their original habitat at The Maharees, Castlegregory, Co. Kerry as part of the National Parks and Wildlife Services Head Starter programme in conjunction with Fota Wildlife Park and Dingle Aquarium. The Natterjack toad is a native species and is unique to West Kerry. The species is protected under the EU’s Habitats Directive.
Under the Head Starter population augmentation programme, toad spawn laid in pools in County Kerry that were drying out are transferred to both Fota Wildlife Park and Dingle Aquarium and subsequently are reared in tanks before being released back into the native habitat in Kerry, following the metamorphosis into toadlets.
Minister Malcolm Noonan T.D. recently visited Fota Wildlife Park to see the conservation project for himself, and he was in Castlegregory on Friday 30th July to see the toadlets being returned to the wild. “It is a privilege to see this beautiful animal up close, and I want to commend my staff in NPWS and thank the team in Fota Wildlife Park for their efforts in this important conservation project.”
He added: “The natterjack toad is an iconic native species, and we will continue working with Fota Wildlife Park, with farmers and with local communities in Kerry to improve its conservation status.
Both the natterjack toad and the habitats it depends on, such as sand dunes, are protected under EU legislation and my department is committed to finding ways to protect them. I’m delighted to have seen this conservation project in action and to have finally come face to face with this iconic species.”
Sean McKeown Director of Fota Wildlife Park said: “We’re delighted to be working with the NPWS on the recovery programme for the Natterjack toad. Fota Wildlife Park is involved in breeding programmes for endangered species from all over the World, but we are particularly pleased to be able to support this project for a threatened species closer to home. Since 2016 Fota Wildlife Park has released 6,400 toadlets back to the wild in Kerry with a further 3400 toadlets released by Dingle Aquarium. This is a fantastic achievement by these two institutions given that there are estimated to be only 10,000 Natterjack toads living in the wild in Kerry”.
The natterjack toad or Cnádán is one of only three amphibian species; the common frog, the natterjack toad and the smooth newt. Unusual for a toad, they spend their adult lives on coastal, sandy areas, while breeding in warm, shallow ponds. The Natterjack toad is among the few amphibians that can tolerate brackish water. The decline in farmland ponds through wetland drainage and agricultural intensification has been identified as the main cause of natterjack toad decline across Europe. Survival rates of eggs and tadpoles in the wild are typically very low. Predation by invertebrates such as the predatory diving beetle and early pond desiccation is also a significant cause of mortality in the wild.
“The Natterjack is a boom or bust species,” explained Dr Ferdia Marnell, the amphibian specialist in the NPWS, who has been overseeing the project. “Good years can see mass metamorphosis and subsequent juvenile recruitment to the breeding population. However, in three or four years out of five, breeding success can be very low. This captive rearing project provides a vital boost to supplement the wild population in Kerry.”