Some of our regular zoo visitors might remember the time the Zoo was overrun by a mob of concerned puppet animals carrying a conservation message. Back in 2011, Xtinkshun: A Wild Puppet Xperience took over the Zoo, telling all of our guests that animals are disappearing right from under our nose and that it is up to us to do something about it.
Well, we did! Phibi the Amphibian, a female Wampukrum harlequin toad from Cordillera del Condor in Ecuador, was one of those concerned animals that came to the Zoo with a heartbreaking message: her species, a recently discovered population of harlequin toads, so rare it hadn’t been formally described by scientists, is already considered critically endangered. It is at risk of disappearing due to direct effects of legal and illegal mining at Cordillera del Condor.
A concerned Phibi talks to Zoo visitors about the plight of her kind, the wampukrum harlequin toads, and how we can help save them and other endangered amphibians by not using pesticide, planting gardens with native plants and creating frog-friendly habitats, such as ponds, near our homes.
Luckily for her and her kind, the Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Biologist along with Mr. Fausto Siavichay, the biologist from our Amphibian Conservation Center-Zoo Amaru, proposed a conservation program to help save the wampukrum harlequin toad along with two species of glass frogs from Cordillera del Condor. The proposal, “Saving endangered frogs from Cordillera del Condor,” was submitted to the Amphibian Ark Seed Grant program and was one of the three projects selected for funding. The $5,000 US received from the Amphibian Ark, together with funds from the Philadelphia Zoo and our local partner Zoo Amaru, will make Phibi’s dream possible.
A pair or wampukrum harlequin toads from ACC-Zoo Amaru. The species depend on our success at breeding these wonderful animals, while at the same time working hard with local authorities in Ecuador to ensure that there is habitat protected for them at Cordillera del Condor.
Amphibian Conservation Center (ACC)–Zoo Amaru is a well established holistic conservation program for critically endangered amphibians from southern Ecuador. Formed in 2009 by Zoo Amaru and the Philadelphia Zoo, it is one of the few in-country breeding facilities located in the same habitat where the frogs at the local Zoo Amaru in the nearby city of Cuenca in Ecuador. Thanks to the Amphibian Ark, this year we will be able to establish assurance populations of the yet-to-be-described wampukrum toad, Atelopus sp nov. wampukrum (IUCN Critically Endangered) and newly discovered Ecuadorian populations of glass frogs, Rulyrana aff. erminea and Hyalinobatrachium aff pellucidum (IUCN Near Threatened), all from Cordillera del Condor in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
A large female wampukrum harlequin toad (identified from males by her bright red belly) sits comfortably at her enclosure on La Balsa de los Sapos in Quito Ecuador. Ex situ conservation populations of the wampukrum harlequin toads exist currently at three different institutions in Ecuador, all working to try and save this endangered jewel from extinction.
Rulyrana aff erminea and H. aff. pellucidum from Cordillera del Condor, Ecuador. The wampukrum harlequin toad is not the only amphibians being saved by this initiative. We are also working with two species of glass frogs for which there is very little ecological data. A male stoat glass frog (Rulyrana erminea) sits on a leaf in his terrarium. This female Río Azuela glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium aff pellucidum) is already carrying a belly full of eggs.
We will build new housing facilities for these threatened Amazonian amphibians at ACC-Zoo Amaru to accommodate the parent animals, which are already housed at our facilities, and will rescue new individuals in order to establish assurance populations of these species while learning more about their ecology and conservation status in the field. You can view the complete project proposal here.