By Dr. Carlos Martínez Rivera, Amphibian Conservation Biologist, Philadelphia Zoo
By now, Santo Domingo and the island of Hispaniola in general (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) have become my second home. Over the past two years, I’ve spent most of my time down here trying to save the endangered amphibians found in this Caribbean hot spot of biodiversity.
As you might be aware by now, amphibian extinction has become a warning sign of the greater implications of deforestation and land mismanagement. This is especially true in the Caribbean, where we are losing the unique amphibians that inhabit these forests, and in doing so, we are also losing this entire natural heritage due to the human-induced pressures and lack of proper land management practices.
Unfortunately, not enough attention has been paid to this important group of animals in the Caribbean, and there is very little information on the ecology and conservation needs for most of these species on which to base amphibian conservation programs. More than 30 amphibian species on the island are feared extinct, and some will be lost if we don’t continue our efforts to reduce the conservation pressures affecting these frogs. Thus, in order to help save as many species as possible, it is important to learn how to most effectively survey and monitor them and how to propose simple management techniques that can increase the likelihood of saving these and other species.
Our work is carried thanks to the financial support of the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, and we are collaborating with local institutions on the island, like Grupo Jaragua in the Dominican Republic and Société Audubon Haiti, which is the only local conservation organization working at a national scale in that country. So far, we have found that some of the more threatened species are able to survive in isolated forest patches with variable levels of degradation. Many of these sites are outside of protected areas and warrant more assessment in order to better gauge how to protect them. We are now working with key personnel from the Ministry of the Environment in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic and with key stakeholders from Civil Society Organizations in both countries who manage protected areas within these mountain ranges to make this information available to them so that these areas may be legally protected.
In addition, our program is also focused on providing local biologists, educators and land managers with the tools necessary to help save critically endangered and endemic amphibians in the Caribbean. Our training of local professionals has improved local perception of amphibians and has brought the amphibian extinction crisis to the forefront of conservation issues at the national and international level.
There are over 70 species of amphibians found on Hispaniola, unfortunately many of these are at risk of becoming extinct, especially in Haiti.
Our amphibian conservation plan is holistic in scope and it incorporates a constant feedback among different institutions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the USA who are working together to help save these animals and the forests they inhabit
Our team is gathering massive amounts of data on the calls of the frogs at our different field sites. With this information we can determine what species are present on the forests we are sampling and can gather vital data on their breeding ecology. It is also a great way to incorporate local scientist, such as Mr. Cristian Marte (on the top right), who then collaborate with local people leaving near our sites as field technicians.