Amphibian Conservation in the Tropical Andes of Ecuador


The New Year always comes with new opportunities and new adventures. It may sound a bit clichéd, but it is true. In our case, 2015 brings new opportunities in the form of renewed ties with our old partners at the Amphibian Conservation Center - Zoo Amaru (ACC-Zoo Amaru) in Ecuador.

Since the beginning of the Philadelphia Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Program in 2008, we have focused on saving critically endangered amphibians from the Tropical Andes of Ecuador, Perú, and more recently Colombia, mainly with the ACC-Zoo Amaru. Since October 2010, we have concentrated our efforts on the endangered frogs of the Caribbean—specifically on the assurance colonies of Haitian frogs kept at the Zoo since 2010—and on trying to understand how amphibians are able to survive on the forests of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and how the governments and civil societies of both countries can help preserve the forests where frogs are still found, which is a key element if we are ever to reintroduce the frogs kept at our colony here at the zoo.

Carlos Martinez Rivera and Fausto Siavichay
Fausto Siavichay, amphibian biologist from CCA-Zoo Amaru, and Dr. Carlos C. Martinez Rivera from the Philadelphia Zoo at the National Conference on Amphibian Conservation in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Ernesto Arbelaez
Ernesto Arbeláez, Zoo Amaru director, talks to the audience about their latest amphibian exhibit at Zoo Amaru.

This year, we will continue our conservation efforts in the Caribbean, but at the same time, we will increase our involvement on the conservation efforts of the amphibians of Ecuador by continuing our institutional support to the ACC-Zoo Amaru. As a first step, Biologist Fausto Siavichay, who has been the main biologist in charge of caring for and breeding these endangered species at ACC-Zoo Amaru, coordinated the first National Conference on Amphibian Conservation in Ecuador. The meeting took place at the new Zoo Amaru in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, where more than 500 endangered and critically endangered frogs and toads from 11 different amphibian species are kept at the recently refurbished CCA-Zoo Amaru.

Since the beginning of this project in 2008, Fausto Siavichay, Zoo Amaru director Ernesto Arbeláez and myself have worked together with many local and international institutions in an effort to save the endangered amphibians from southern Ecuador from extinction.

We’ve focused our efforts on the captive breeding of five critically endangered species from Cajas National Park, near the city of Cuenca, Ecuador with ACC-Zoo Amaru. More recently the team added six amphibian species from the Cordillera del Condor, in the Amazonian border with Peru. One of the species is the wampukrum harlequin toad, known by many at the Philadelphia Zoo thanks to Phibi the Amphibian, who participated along with other endangered animals on the X.TINK.SHUN program back in 2011. 

Frogs and toads
The Amphibian Conservation Center – Zoo Amaru is home to 11 critically endangered amphibian species from southern Ecuador. Clockwise from the upper left, you can see the Cuenca burrowing frog (Nelsonophryne aequatorialis), the black Cajas harlequin toad (Atelopus nanay), a Cuenca marsupial frog (Gastrotheca pseustes), two wampukrum toads (Atelopus sp nov wampukrum), and another Cuenca marsupial frog (Gastrotheca litonedis).

ACC – Zoo Amaru also hosts some of the emblematic and more charismatic frog species representing the amphibian fauna of the country. Pictured here, clockwise starting from the upper left, are the Ecuadorian red eye treefrog (Agalychnis spurrelli) the desert Pacman frog (Ceratophrys stolzmani), several species of glass frogs, the painted tree frog (Hypsiboas picturatus) and the Amazonian monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa tarsius).

This year we will continue to provide support to the ex situ conservation efforts at ACC-Zoo Amaru and also help uncover the extent of the biodiversity of the amphibians of southern Ecuador by learning more about these species in the field.