Helen’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus helenae) from Vietnam, recently assessed for the first time on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. The species is only known from two patches of forest separated by agricultural land – both of which are under continued threat from habitat loss and modification due to livestock grazing and collection of forest products, as well as habitat isolation. Collection for the pet trade is also a concern.  Photo © Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum

The IUCN Red List extinction risk assessments for the amphibians of Southeast Asia are out of date. While a few species accounts have been updated in recent years, most species haven’t been updated since the Global Amphibian Assessment in 2004. In a region where our knowledge of amphibian species is rapidly expanding, and new species are being discovered on a regular basis, a decade-long lag in assessment is a huge problem, particularly in the face of habitat loss and other great threats. Without an updated list that more accurately reflects the current conservation status of amphibians in the region, our limited conservation resources may be directed towards species that don’t need it or that don’t need it as urgently, at the expense of those that do.

Enter the mainland Southeast Asia working group (WG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Amphibian Red List Authority (RLA). We like to shorten our title somewhat in conversations, though! Our job is to ensure that the Red List assessments for the amphibian species in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are as accurate and up to date as possible, and that new species are assessed as soon after their description as possible. That’s no easy task, particularly when it’s all on a volunteer basis.

The team consists of five experts in amphibians from each of the countries in the region, five interns and myself. A large number of generous amphibian researchers also donate their time and expertise on a regular basis, providing us with vital unpublished information on the distribution, abundance, habitat requirements and threats facing each species.

Vampire Flying Frog (Rhacophorus vampyrus), listed for the first time on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  The primary threat to the Vampire Flying Frog is habitat loss and modification due to aquaculture, agriculture (primarily coffee), road development, and harvest of both timber and non-timber forest products. Photo © Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

Vampire Flying Frog (Rhacophorus vampyrus), listed for the first time on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. The primary threat to the Vampire Flying Frog is habitat loss and modification due to aquaculture, agriculture (primarily coffee), road development, and harvest of both timber and non-timber forest products. Photo © Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

Our initial focus has been to work on 50 or so species that had been relatively recently described and not yet assessed. This year, we’ve added two newly discovered species to the Red List: the Vampire Flying Frog Rhacophorus vampyrus and Helen’s Flying Frog Rhacophorus helenae (both species assessed as Endangered). We have also reassessed one species that was identified as urgently needing updating (the now Endangered Lao Salamander, Laotriton laoensis).

Our job has only just begun, and it’s a lot of work, but we all believe in the importance of the IUCN Red List in helping us prioritise amphibian conservation in Southeast Asia and beyond.

By Jodi Rowley
Australian Museum Research Institute; Tier I Member, Amphibian Red List Authority; Co-Chair, Mainland Southeast Asia, IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group