AMPHIBIANS IN PERIL: HOW ZOO DOCENTS ARE ALERTING THE CITIZENS OF “FROGTOWN” TO THIS GLOBAL THREAT
Tim Hyma and Frank Longeway
In the early 1800’s Toledo Ohio, due to its location on the edge of the “Great Black Swamp”, was home to a multitude of amphibians, and was nicknamed “Frogtown”. The nickname remains, but sorrowfully the frogs are gone due to habitat destruction. The Toledo Zoo was established in 1900. Given the “Frogtown” legacy, it was only natural that the Zoo became instrumental in the preservation of amphibians. This focus has become more critical as amphibian habitat is being destroyed worldwide. In addition to going green with recycling and other conservation measures, the Zoo is involved in two toad projects, one in Wyoming and one in Tanzania.
The Toledo Zoo has also developed an extensive exhibit named “AMAZING AMPHIBIANS”, which displays not only local species but also global species with accompanying graphic information on environmental threats and conservation suggestions. The role of the “Zoo-Ed” (our name for Docents at The Toledo Zoo) is to interpret these data and to develop education vehicles to convey this information to the public. This has included but not been limited to house-guiding, on-grounds and outreach education classes, and interpretive programs.
II Brief Description of the Wyoming Toad Project and the Kihansi Spray Toad Project.
A. Wyoming Toad Project
In the 1950’s the Wyoming toad was a populous native of Albany County, Wyoming. In the 1970’s insecticide sprays were delivered by “crop dusters” to control the insects damaging agricultural crops. Because of this spraying, the toad population crashed in 1984. By 1995 the Wyoming toad had become extinct in the wild in Albany County.
Since 1994, The Toledo Zoo has been a leader in a collaborative effort to save the Wyoming Toad. Currently, the Zoo’s senior keeper Val Hornyak is the acting species coordinator for the Wyoming Toad Species Survival Plan (SSP).
On June 29, 2009, The Toledo Zoo sent 304 tadpoles to Albany County, Wyoming, where they were released into one of the reintroduction sites. These tadpoles were part of two separate breedings that occurred at The Toledo Zoo. The released populations are not yet self sustaining; therefore, they continue to be listed as extinct in the wild. At The Toledo Zoo, the Wyoming toads are housed in a bio-secure laboratory which has a window for public viewing.
B. Kihansi Spray Toad Project
In 1994 the Tanzanian Government began constructing a hydro-power dam on the Lower Kihansi River to generate needed electricity. In 1999, when 25% of the river flow was reduced over the falls, 90% of the spray-zone toad habitat was destroyed. Tens of thousands of Kihansi spray toads gathered at the bottom of the falls to live in the remaining mist habitat. Soon only about 2,000 toads survived due to overcrowding and stress. The Kihansi spray toad project is a collaborative effort to save the toads from extinction. During the past ten years, many organizations have participated in pursuit of this objective. Participants include the Government of Tanzania, the World Bank, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Detroit Zoo, The Toledo Zoo and others. In 2001, 500 Kihansi spray toads were collected and sent to the Bronx and Detroit Zoos for breeding; however, after some initial success, most died in a short time.
The Toledo Zoo constructed bio-secure laboratories to raise and house the spray toads. We received our first shipment of 24 Kihansi spray toads in February 2002 from the Detroit Zoo and we currently house over 4400 (mid-February 2010). This species is currently extinct in the wild and we have one of only two exhibits of Kihansi spray toads in the world! Bio-secure laboratories are being duplicated in Tanzania as well as all current breeding information and procedures. Controlled releases are in the plans for 2010.
III History of the Amphibian Exhibit at The Toledo Zoo.
Plans were developed in 2007 for construction of the “AMAZING AMPHIBIANS” exhibit. In May of 2008, the exhibit was opened to the public. An accelerated building schedule required extra cooperation among all who were involved. The new year-round children’s zoo expansion (“Nature’s Neighborhood”) and the need for larger bio-secure laboratories for our growing populations of SSP animals were the reasons for the rapid development.
There are 23 exhibits with visitor viewing, housing a total population of 4,738 animals. In each exhibit, temperature and relative humidity can be individually controlled. There are four bio-secure laboratories containing a total of 111 individual tanks. Two of these labs have visitor viewing. The bio-secure laboratories provide life support, which includes disease control, by keepers using protective covering of masks, gloves and boots. Each laboratory has access to foot baths, special lighting, 24-hour misting capabilities and other environmental controls for water, air and temperature. The “AMAZING AMPHIBIANS” exhibit cost $750,000 and green technology is used throughout the area.
Educational graphics were designed and incorporated by The Toledo Zoo’s Herpetology staff, the Interpretive Services Department, and the Education staff. The goal was to attract audiences through the use of strategic colors and various cartoon-like amphibian characters. The graphics provide accurate information and change periodically to enhance awareness. The intent was to
attract a wide variety of age groups while offering educational facts to them as they pass through and view the exhibit. The graphics help teach visitors about the exhibit, how the loss of habitat affects each species, conservation tools we can use, and other interesting facts. The presentation hopefully creates a new awareness that will help make positive life style changes and help give a new understanding of how we impact the world and the world of other species. It also introduces visitors to our efforts to re-establish extinct species back into the wild.
IV Description of the current status of the amphibian population globally and in Ohio.
Amphibians have been on earth for at least 250 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs. They survived when the dinosaurs could not. Can they survive the current crisis?
There are three orders of amphibians: frogs and toads, salamanders, and caecilians. Some of the approximately 6,300 identified species are found on every continent except Antarctica. It is estimated that the collective body of amphibians in any northeast forest would outweigh all the mammals in the forest – even if there are bears and deer present. The highest diversity is found
in the tropics. Brazil has the most with 811 species. The United States has 292 species.
Amphibians are very important to the ecosystem. They consume insects and other invertebrates that, if unchecked, would cause crop damage and spread disease. As tadpoles, many species feed on plant materials. This improves the health of our aquatic ecosystems. These animals then become food for many larger species. Some amphibians have skin secretions that show potential
for treatment in many diseases, including cancer.
New species are being discovered as previously unstudied areas are explored. Some estimate that there may be as many as 4,000 yet unidentified species. For example, within the last few years, 200 new species of frogs have been identified in Madagascar, and 20 new species in New Guinea.
Because of these new discoveries, it could appear that the amphibian numbers are increasing; however, since 1970 scientists have seen an abrupt decline in the known amphibian population.
Declines have occurred around the world, but Central America, the Caribbean, and Australia have seen the most devastating declines. The amphibians’ existence is being threatened by the usual causes of species decline: loss of habitat, pollution, over-exploitation, global warming/climate change and introduction of non-native species. There is also an additional threat to amphibians – it is Chytridiomosis (Chytrid), a disease caused by the fungus
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). The fungus seems to be present in most environments, but amphibians in the tropical zone appear to be more likely to contract the disease. Chytrid is associated with the worldwide extinction of amphibian species. The fungus grows under the amphibians’ thin skin and since they breathe through their skin, they are soon suffocated. There is no known cure for this disease in wild populations; however, there has been recent successful treatment of infected amphibians in controlled captive populations. Salamanders seem to be effected less than frogs and toads.
These factors are working synergistically to cause a decline in amphibian populations. Since 1980 more than 120 species have become extinct. At least 43% of all known amphibian species have been in decline, with 32% classified as threatened with extinction. The only hope for the the survival of hundreds of species is to be protected in captivity. Many that are extinct in the wild, such as the Kihansi spray toad, will be reintroduced to the wild when there is a suitable habitat.
The current status of the amphibian population in Ohio is not as grim as in many other places around the world; however, many of our amphibian species have been greatly affected by habitat loss and pollution. Chytrid has not significantly affected the amphibian population in Ohio, although there have been some deaths attributed to the fungus.
There are 40 species of amphibians in Ohio (15 frogs and toads, and 25 salamanders). There are four species of salamanders listed as endangered by the Ohio Division of Wildlife: the blue-spotted salamander, the cave salamander, the green salamander and the eastern hellbender. The hellbender appears to have declined by 80%, and this once common salamander is now found in only one Ohio stream. This species may soon be listed as endangered at the federal level.
Another species, the eastern spadefoot, is endangered in Ohio. These unique animals are not quite frogs, and not quite toads. They are found in the southern area of the state.
Cricket frog populations have declined significantly especially in the eastern counties of Ohio.
The southern leopard frog has not been seen since 2008, and its range and population in Ohio are in question, since recent efforts to find them have been unsuccessful. It also appears that the Fowler’s toad population has declined in Ohio.
Bullfrogs have expanded their range to all counties in Ohio, apparently because they were spread as tadpoles from fish hatcheries in the 1950’s. Since these frogs feed on other frogs, their presence has impacted other species. One good thing about Ohio’s amphibians is that no nonnative species have been established.
Role and Contributions of Toledo Zoo-Eds/Docents.
A Vernal Pool Monitoring
Ephemeral or vernal pools are temporary wetlands found in many local woods. They are shallow, usually dry up in mid-summer, are very high in biodiversity due to a lack of fish, and are critical breeding habitat for many aquatic species. Wood frogs, fairy shrimp and salamanders require vernal pools for successful breeding. Without these pools, these obligate species would likely go extinct locally. A vernal pool may be thousands of years old and hold endemic species
not found in other vernal pools a half mile away.
In February 2006 a Zoo-Ed-facilitated program began with the Metroparks of the Toledo Area (and others) to investigate all types of life in and around vernal pools, using basic field research techniques. Our ZOOTeens were an integral part of this research, along with help from Zoo-Eds.
Weather and temperature data were recorded and dip nets and buckets were used to collect aquatic life. A catch, identify and release protocol of aquatic life was strictly followed.
Microscopes and field guides enabled most captured and observed life forms to be identified.
The detailed information was then recorded on standardized data sheets. This information was used to establish a baseline on local vernal pool biodiversity which was shared with local and state agencies at the end of the season.
An important goal of vernal pool monitoring is the raising of public awareness of their existence, their significance as biological hot spots and the need for their protection. As docents we can then educate our visitors about this lesser-known habitat and its inhabitants.
There are several things a homeowner can do to preserve and protect vernal pools:
- Do not dredge or drain pools or alter the flow of water into a pool area.
- Be careful with fertilizers around the pool area as they can cause a bloom of algae that can starve the pool for oxygen.
- Do not use pesticides or insecticides around the pool area, and if possible do not put a mosquito-killer tablet in the pool as the larvae are a food source for many aquatic organisms.
- If there is a tree canopy over the pool, leave it there because some species require cooler water temperatures.
- Do not walk through a dried pool area if you can help it as frogs, turtles, and many insect species may be hibernating in the mud.
- Learn more about vernal pools and their unique inhabitants! Tell your neighbors about how special vernal pools are and what they contribute to the overall diversity of wildlife in your area.
NOTE: Portions of Vernal Pool information were provided from material of the Metroparks of Toledo Area.
B Frog Call Survey
This is an example of our Zoo-Ed system doing what it was designed to do. A Zoo-Ed (Brandon Ansted) launched and supervised the program that the ZOOTeens then perpetuated and carried out.
The purpose of the frog call surveys was to get an approximate number of particular species of frogs and toads in the area. This was carried out so the Metroparks would be able to keep track of the population of frogs and toads. This was important because of the amphibians tendency to be an Indicator species of pollution since they absorb water and nutrients through their skin.
The frog call surveys were started in the Spring/Summer of 2005. The surveys took place at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark. The following frogs and toads were monitored: wood frog, cricket frog, green frog, American toad, gray tree frog, bull frog, Fowler’s toad, chorus frog and spring peepers. (Examples of each, plus recordings of their distinct calls, are found in the “AMAZING AMPHIBIANS” exhibit.
The ZOOTeens conducted the survey every second Friday at sunset — the timing would vary as the summer progressed.
“After we arrived at the bike trail that we surveyed, we rated the clarity of the sky on a scale of 1-4 based on the amount of overhead cloud cover. Then we took a ground temperature reading by placing a thermometer on the ground, and we also took a water temperature reading by placing a thermometer in the water for a short period of time. We then proceeded down the trail in almost complete silence with head lamps that gave off red light. This was needed because at times the amphibians were so numerous that we had to avoid stepping on them, and also so we could document anything out of the ordinary such as special wildlife or noises. We stopped at posts every tenth of a mile and waited for about 1-2 minutes and each person made their own count of how many frogs of each kind they thought they heard around the area (Each volunteer had to learn all of the frog calls by heart). We would then take either an average tally, or if there were too many, we would simply mark that there was a full chorus. After we completed the one-mile walk, we walked back to our vehicle, returned our supplies to the bin provided by the Metroparks, put the box back where we found it at the beginning of the night, and headed home.” Roy Ansted, Toledo Zoo staff member (former ZOOTeen and Zoo-Ed)
VI What Visitors can do in their own communities to preserve and protect amphibians.
Living in and enjoying the benefits of an advanced civilization come at a price. The impact of urban development on wildlife is considerable. This is especially true of the impact on amphibians, since they live in the worlds of both air and water. Because of their exceptional susceptibility to their environment, they are often cited as “the canaries in the coal mine”.
Locally many of our amphibians have been affected by habitat loss due to construction of shopping malls, housing developments and agriculture. Our docents educate our visitors on what they can do to help the conservation of amphibians. We suggest buying organic produce, converting empty lawn space into wildlife habitat and avoiding the use of yard chemicals. In addition, by planting native species and building backyard wetlands, conservation efforts can be helped.
While some species, such as toads, can continue to exist in residential backyards, public green space such as metropolitan parks can support a wider variety, including frogs and salamanders.
If a natural ecosystem exists, such as a vernal pool, it can be preserved by thoughtful landscaping. Current efforts to include rain gardens in home and city landscapes may provide additional habitat for native amphibians. This year, for the first time, the Lucas County Ohio Soil and Water Conservation District is offering a rain garden kit, an outgrowth of its Rain Garden Initiative. The kit encourages landowners to introduce native plants as both a valuable
storm water management tool and as a wonderful addition to the landscape.
The kit is a set of 32 perennial plants already good-sized and planted individually in 3-inch pots. The project is as simple as creating a small depression in which to establish the variety of plants.
Land newly opened for development must now pass scrutiny to determine the impact on wildlife at local, regional and national levels. Public hearings are a useful forum for citizens to express their ideas and concerns about indigenous wildlife. Each of us can make an impact by 10 supporting our local organizations that monitor development, and by expressing our opinions
regarding zoning issues.
Frequently efforts to maintain and preserve habitat require multi-agency co-operation. One example of this is the Critter Crossings program, under the auspices of the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. Their objective was to link habitats and limit road-kill. Every spring in Amherst, Mass., concerned volunteers used a bucket brigade system to aid salamanders crossing Henry Street, a two-lane road. The vernal pools necessary for breeding are on the other side of the road. Under the aegis of the “Critter Crossings” program at least six different agencies, with the help of local people, cooperated to construct two tunnels under the road at the crossing site. Short “drift fences” were constructed to direct salamanders into the tunnels. To determine the effectiveness of the tunnels, salamanders were
tagged with colored dots. The study revealed that 75% of the salamanders that reached the tunnels were successful in making the crossing to reach the vernal pools.
A similar multi-agency effort in Northwest Ohio is the Green Ribbon Initiative. The Oak Openings is a 130 square mile region that harbors more rare species than any other in the state and sustains two globally rare communities, oak savanna and wet prairie. Because of commercial and residential development and agriculture, much of this region has lost its original character. Substantial tracts of land have been preserved over the years in Metroparks and preserves, but they are not adjacent to each other. These preserves have provided islands of safety for wildlife, but in many cases there is no connection between them. As the name suggests, the Green Ribbon Initiative is attempting to remedy this isolation through land acquisition, conservation easements and appropriate zoning. Homeowners are encouraged to dedicate part of their land to native plants to provide habitat for the species unique to the region and to weed out non-native species of plant species.
Coal fired electric generating plants, the smelting of metals, and the internal combustion engine are major sources of air pollution and acid rain. Most of the electricity we use comes from generating plants burning fossil fuel. Other sources of electricity including nuclear, hydro, wind, geothermal and solar are not widely used. What we can do now is to lessen consumption through better insulation in homes, programmable thermostats, turning off lights and appliances when not in use, and the list goes on……. Alternatives to the internal combustion engine are also available, the healthiest being either to walk or to ride a bike. The Toledo Zoo is in the process of constructing a 1500 foot covered walkway with solar panels. This will provide 5% of our electrical energy needs under optimum conditions.
Water pollution is a problem distinct from air pollution. Much of water pollution is, however, also due to acid rain. With a reduction in acid rain, improvement in air quality can be obvious rather quickly; streams and lakes, on the other hand, may take months or years to heal; forests and soils take even longer, decades or even centuries. Additional water pollutants can be
avoided by the use of organic cleaning products, use of organic pesticides and holistic pest management in the home or garden, use of compost (or manure if you are lucky enough to have a friend with horses), or the judicious use of chemical fertilizers. Greenscaping, appropriate plant selection and lawn management, result in water conservation, ipso facto, less pollution. Hazard waste disposal sites are available for materials that need special handling, such as paint or motor oil.
In summary, there are numerous contacts by our docents through which we alert the citizens of “Frogtown” to the global threat of amphibians in peril. These include on-grounds houseguiding talks, classroom settings, outreach and participation in our annual Earth Day program at the Zoo.
In the past two years our docents have presented 668 programs with attendance of 17,500 people. Our docents have made contact with 43,800 visitors in the “AMAZING AMPHIBIANS” exhibit. All of these contacts, representing thousands of hours of commitment by the adult Zoo-
Eds, include conservation messages.
The Frog Call Survey and the Vernal Pool Monitoring represent over 1,000 hours of ZOOTeen participation since 2005. These programs, under the guidance of our docent coordinators and a Zoo-Ed, provide the younger docents with vital conservation experience. Through the knowledge gained by working in the field, the ZOOTeen docents are able to teach conservation
to the public. This information is then passed on to the public by ZOOTeens and Zoo-Eds through interactive activities both on and off Zoo grounds.
VIII Recognition of Contributing Individuals and Organizations.
Zoo-Eds : Brandon Ansted, Tina Hibbs, Lynn Lyons, Dave Sansing, Roy Ansted, Tim Hyma, Dixie Repp, Barb Streby, Roger Baker, Frank Longeway, Paul Rouda, Judy Zinober, Tim Birthisel
Wyoming Toad Project and Kihansi Spray Toad Project
1. Herpetology Department
Curator: R. Andrew Odum
Keepers: Tim Herman, Pat Zurski, Val Hornyak
2. Volunteer Coordinators
Bill Davis, Liz Hartman
B. Contributing Organizations
Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge, The Buford Foundation, Laramie Rivers Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Toad Recovery Team, World Bank, Government of Tanzania Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, The Toledo Zoo, Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center
THE TOLEDO ZOO MISSION
Inspiring others to join us in caring for animals and conserving the natural world.