Fighting to save Critically Endangered lemur leaf frogs

Conservationists are waiting for the all-clear to fly to the other side of the world to help save a tiny threatened frog.

As we mark World Frog Day (Saturday, March 20) the population of lemur leaf frogs, which has fallen by as much as 50 per cent during the past 15 years, continues to decline.

The lemur leaf frog’s situation is so grave that it is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

Bristol Zoo Gardens has been involved in a crucial breeding programme to help save this species since 2016.

In time some of these frogs, the youngest of which is small enough to sit on a fingertip, may be released to bolster the native population in Costa Rica.

This is one possible future step in our long-term conservation programme to help lemur leaf frogs whose tropical rainforest habitat is being destroyed and whose existence is also threatened by an invasive plant species and chytrid fungal disease.

Today, they are found in only three areas of the country and their numbers have also fallen in neighbouring Panama and Colombia, although these may actually be different species.

The work by our conservationists involves conducting surveys to determine how much of the species’ historic range in Costa Rica is currently occupied and the size of the remaining population. Future plans include pond habitat restoration to increase potential breeding sites.

BZS is also analysing the threats faced by lemur leaf frogs to identify the main cause of their numbers falling. But the work has been held up by the pandemic and the restrictions on international travel.

Tim Bray, Conservation Scientist at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “We are really keen to return to Costa Rica. The main aim of our project is to understand the current range of the lemur leaf frog within Costa Rica and the threats facing these remaining populations.

“The uncertainty of the occupied range is now hampering conservation efforts and needs immediate action.”

Lemur leaf frogs are striking animals with the remarkable ability to change colour from greenish-yellow to blend in during the day and to a reddish-brown at night when they are most active.

Tim said conservationists have been unable to visit Costa Rica since the Covid pandemic but were hoping to return in late 2021, if safe to do so.

Bristol Zoological Society is a conservation and education charity which carries out conservation work across four continents but it relies on public support.

In March 2020 Bristol Zoological Society launched an appeal to ensure the future of its work ‘saving wildlife together’.

The Society, which is a registered charity, launched the BZS Appeal following the temporary closure of both its sites in Bristol in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Click here to find out more about the appeal, or to make a donation.

To find out more about Bristol Zoological Society’s conservation projects, click here.

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