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King of the Mountain

March 2013: Seven years of growing frogs, twelve months of construction, many days of sorting packing and transport and in the end an event that took fifteen minutes but more than tripled the number of Corroboree Frogs on Kosciuszko.

For decades now the number of Corroboree Frogs on the mountain has dwindled. Wild frogs returning to nest are becoming so rare that we may have seen the last truly wild frog this year (most of the frogs left now were released as tadpoles or frogs). A decade of releases of eggs, tadpoles and frogs from captivity has done little except show us just how hard real conservation is, as we wage war with a foe that seems invincible in the wild. But there is hope; because failure equals success through illumination of the mysteries surrounding a fungus that has laid waste to as many as three hundred amphibian species globally. And, after two decades fighting, I feel we are on the precipice of a significant victory.

Our glass is half full - or at least several Corroboree Frog shipping containers at the ARC and Taronga Zoo are... We know how to breed the frog in captivity; we can rear healthy adults. We have genetic representation across many populations and more than enough frogs to avoid the complications that can occur when breeding programs mix with too few individuals. The frog is safe - it will NOT go extinct - at least it will survive in captivity. But I am not happy with that (and neither should you be) because we have not saved a species until it is returned not just to its ecosystem, but to its function within that system. Last month's return of 120 adult frogs to the mountain was a significant step in this direction. After Seven years growing these adults from eggs, two thousand plus hours of ARC staff time and over three million crickets, it took just 15 minutes for the frogs to be released into their new Chytrid exclusion area and disappear.

 

 

 

 

So what are we up to? To put it simply we have done what others have done so successfully to protect small mammals from foxes and cats - we built a fence. "Well why didn't you do that before" you may ask. Because "simply" was a bit of an understatement when you consider building a fence to keep out a fungus that can fit through the eye of a needle side by side with all their friends and relatives at the same time! But with us currently losing the war in the real wild, the secret will be perfecting such techniques to get frogs back into as much of the wild as possible. Here they will have the chance to breed and grow a population that is accustomed to all the natural cycles and events that nature has thrown at them for millennia. They will not be captive softies looking to the god in the sky to rain free crickets through the hatch in the roof of the tank. Here frogs will choose their own mate, pool and nesting site as they have done almost forever. Here and in other such fenced areas we will save the Corroboree Frog, increasing its numbers and distribution, until we have a solution that enables control of the Chytrid fungus in the wild. And the world watches... because here is the first attempt to employ such a strategy, something relatively cheap, and potentially achievable in developing countries who carry the burden of vastly more than their share of the worlds declining amphibians. In places where the $60 light globes needed to breed frogs indoors is a week's salary to the biologist breeding them (if they are lucky enough to be paid at all) it is inconceivable to hold captive populations of dozens of species indoors and away from the fungus for any length of time; we, the world, need this solution.

 

 

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