Saving frogs of Southern Hispaniola


Although it seems like just yesterday, five years have passed since the Philadelphia Zoo embarked on its first mission to save Haitian frogs. It is exciting times and we have reached another new milestone on our conservation program. We’ve finalized our second data gathering phase of our field program with our 3-year project: ‘Building Local Management Capacity and Conservation Plans to Save Endangered Frogs in Four High Priority Key Biodiversity Areas in Hispaniola’ or ‘Saving frogs of Southern Hispaniola’ for short.

This part of the project began in late 2012 and was funded mainly by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund. Through this project, we were able to identify the conservation status of over 45 species of amphibians found only in this region and to learn more about their ecology and conservation needs. We also helped train over 80 park guards, rangers and technicians from the ministries of the environment in both countries and helped spread the message of conservation to villagers, folks living in cities and university students. We achieved all this with the help from our local collaborators Sociètè Audubon Haiti and with Grupo Jaragua and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

This image shows 46 frogs found in the south part of Hispaniola, all of which have been part of our field studies. This is unique for a Caribbean region, in terms of the number of species and the fact that most are endemic to Haiti and the south part of the island. Unfortunately, many are under risk of becoming extinct due to deforestation.

A few highlights that marked the closing of this phase of our program were:
  1. The publication in Spanish of our Field Guide to the Frogs of Southern Hispaniola, which summarizes our findings and provides information on the ecology and natural history of these species.
  2. Our participation in the first ever Haitian Conservation Gala, held on December 9, 2015. This event marked the launch of the Haiti Trust, which is the first conservation trust set in the country. The Trust is a collaborative effort between international conservation organizations, such as Global Wildlife Conservation, long time researchers like Dr. Blair Hedges from Temple University, local conservation groups like Sociètè Audubon Haiti and by the local Haitian government. The event was for Haitian conservationists and entrepreneurs interested in learning how to help protect Haiti’s wildlife and forests, our project, and our collaboration in Haiti. The end goal of the Haitian Trust is to protect 12 biodiversity hotspots within Haiti through different management techniques. The first being Grand Bois, in extreme Southwest Haiti.
Learn more about Grand Bois and its’ importance.

itian-Conservation-Gala rogs-of-Hispaniola-book
Left Photo (By Eladio Fernández): From Left to Right: Carlos Martínez Rivera (Philadelphia Zoo), Anderson Jean (SAH), Maxon Fildor (SAH) and Kim Lengel (Philadelphia Zoo) next to a frog poster at the Conservation Gala in Karibe Hotel, Petionville, Haiti.
Right Photo: The book in Spanish is titled: ‘Field Guide to the Southern Hispaniola: Their Natural History and Conservation’ and is the first attempt at uniting efforts to conserve one of the most imperiled amphibian communities in the world. 

Our work over these years has focused mainly on four Key Biodiversity Areas  (KBA’s) found in the south part of the island of Hispaniola, two of which lie in Haiti (Massif de la Selle and Massif de la Hotte) and two in the Dominican Republic (Sierra de Bahoruco and Bahoruco Oriental). Massif de la Selle is a biodiverse mountain range marred by massive deforestation and loss of species. The mountain range lies just south of Port-au-Prince in southeastern Haiti and continues east into the Dominican Republic, where it becomes Sierra de Bahoruco and Bahoruco Oriental as it tapers off into the Caribbean. Even though the area is divided into three KBAs in these two neighboring countries, it is a single mountain chain and is one of the areas where we focus our amphibian conservation research, trying to find Critically Endangered species and study their habitat, while at the same time we work with local researcher and institutions to try to find ways to prevent the total destruction of their habitat.

Massif-de-la-Selle Hispaniolan-tree-frog Kim-catches-a-baby-gracile-anole
The vast majority of the landscape in Massif de la Selle resembles a mosaic composed of a few sparse trees, cultivated fields and houses, and abandoned lands.

Massif de la Hotte, in SW Haiti, is another of our study sites. It harbors a unique biodiversity including several species of frogs found only here like Mozart’s frogs & dusky frogs. This mountain range is Haiti’s last frontier, far from big cities and with some good quality forest. We monitor the frogs here to see if they are stable wherever they are found. So far, some seem to fare quite well, while others have all but disappeared.

Mozarts-frog Haitian-dusky-frog Haitian cloud forest
The cloud forests of Massif de la Hotte in Haiti are the most diverse land ecosystem in the Caribbean, however, it is also one of the most threatened. It is home to more than 35 known species of amphibians, 21 of which are found nowhere else in the world, like the Mozart’s frog and the Macaya dusky frog. Even with this level of deforestation, more species of amphibians are being discovered, which gives all the more reasons for us to protect such an imperiled, yet rich ecosystem.