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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Book Cover


A Leap of Faith: Saving Fading Frogs

In the next few years, scientists believe that at least 500 species of amphibians will become extinct, with one-third to one-half of the world’s amphibians becoming extinct in our lifetime. There are about 6,000 known species in the class of amphibians; frogs, toads and salamanders account for most of them. As you read this, 32 percent of those 6,000 are threatened, and another 23 percent are believed to be threatened.

The Year of the Frog is all about conserving amphibians and frogs from extinction. Zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens from around the world are coming together to support in situ(in the field) and ex situ (in captivity) programs to support the scaly, the slimy and the warty.

Globally, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group and other conservation organizations have come together to form the Amphibian Ark. This organization supports amphibian conservation efforts by supporting the ex situ elements of the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan.

Amphibians face many of the same problems that other threatened species face: habitat loss, climate change, pollution and so on. But they also face a unique challenge. It’s called the chytrid fungus, and wherever it arrives, it kills about 80 percent of the amphibians in the area within a year. Over the past decade, the chytrid fungus has been responsible for the extinction of over a dozen species of frogs.

The mostly likely cause of the worldwide spread of this deadly fungus: the chytrid-immune African clawed frog—an amphibian shipped around the world since the 1930s for use in human pregnancy test and lab studies.

The skin of amphibians is more permeable than ours—things pass through it fairly easily—so they have developed some unique biological strategies to protect themselves. For example, their skin produces a wide variety of substances that kill microbes and viruses. Last year, 14 of these substances were tested in a lab. Three of the 14 showed a remarkable capacity to completely inhibit HIV infection.

Surprised that a discovery that shows such promise for inhibiting the mucosal transmission of AIDS didn’t make the news? You shouldn’t be. The fact that we’re going to have some very silent nights in just a few years hasn’t attracted much attention, either. This lack of crowing about the amphibians croaking is just one of the many reasons conservation organizations from all over the world have banded together to declare 2008 as the Year of the Frog.

Through captive management and conservation efforts, it is not too late to save many, maybe even all, of the amphibians. In this struggle, time is short, and we need your awareness and support. Visit, and to learn more about how you can help.

Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph. D., President/CEO
St. Louis (Mo.) Zoo
May 2008

Jeff Ettling, Curator of Reptiles and Aquatics
St. Louis (Mo.) Zoo
May 2008

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