Who would have predicted that a communications campaign devised to raise the profile of amphibians would resonate so much with the public? I certainly was not prepared for the wave of media interest that would follow as we developed a preliminary list of “lost” species. The original intent of the campaign was to deliver a message about the serious plight of amphibians in a slightly more lighthearted package, and to raise the profile of the ASG and amphibian conservation. Looking back at the first email I sent to the ASG community I outlined the purpose of the campaign “We hope that this campaign will raise quite a bit of media attention and raise awareness of the plight of amphibians and the opportunities for protecting those species that cling on.” That “quite a bit” turned out to be quite a lot!
Once announced, the campaign attracted attention normally reserved for the likes of media-friendly creatures such as polar bears and tigers, and it soon took on a life of its own. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see such an appetite among the public for news about amphibians, and the campaign, originally intended to last several months, kept going. Now that the media frenzy has died down somewhat it is a good time to take a step back and assess what this all means. Aside from getting amphibians into the mainstream media and reaching an audience beyond our own community with an important message, how can we capitalize on the success of the campaign to really help advance amphibian conservation beyond simply trying to spread a message?
The searches – both successful and unsuccessful – produced meaningful information to feed into the IUCN Red List and Living Planet Index, two mechanisms for assessing the status and trajectory of amphibian species. Take the Hula painted frog for instance. This species was classified as Extinct on the IUCN Red List; the incredible rediscovery can now start the process of downlisting the species. The second important question is, what is the next step once a species is rediscovered? This is something that can only really be explored on a case by case basis. In the case if the Hula painted frog, conservation efforts have already improved the habitat and may in fact be responsible for the re-appearance of the species. This species is a good example of the value of this: what was once a symbol of extinction in Israel is now a symbol of hope –flagship species such as this cannot be overestimated in terms of conservation value. As efforts continue by local scientists to ascertain the status of the species we keep an interested eye on developments and hope to learn a lot from this story.
In Haiti, India, Colombia and beyond we have also recognized the value of adopting amphibians as powerful symbols for the importance of conservation, and we are making some headway in the long road to protecting species and their habitats. We recognize that conservation does not happen overnight but is a long process that tackles the root of the issue. We also recognize our constraints in making a real impact on the ground with two full-time staff members and over 2,000 threatened amphibian species. It is for this reason that we as a community must leverage intellectual and financial resources. Our approach is to develop fruitful partnerships with local individuals and institutions to explore opportunities for implementing long-term actions. Our biggest inroads have been in habitat protection and this is where we continue to develop and support projects. Out of the Search for Lost Frogs have grown new partnerships and we are excited about the prospects for joining forces to stem the loss of critical amphibian habitats for threatened species. We always welcome new partnerships and new and innovative ideas about how to channel limited resources to achieve maximum impact to protect critical amphibian habitats worldwide.
We thought long and hard about launching phase II of the search for Lost Frogs under the umbrella of the ASG. We realized that the real value of the Search for Lost Frogs goes beyond just a publicity campaign, although this element is definitely important for garnering support for what we do, we decided to develop a platform that will maintain a list of “lost” species – compiled by amphibian experts, as a means of targeting searches and highlighting searches and rediscoveries. Species in this list will be those considered Possibly Extinct by the IUCN, but also those species that you feel deserve to be included. We will also maintain a current “top ten”. Lists such as this are always a tightrope walk between scientific value and public appeal and we fully recognize the subjectivity in this list. However, it is purely intended as a way to bring people in and make the campaign appealing outside of the community who already cares about amphibians. I believe this is very important if we want to garner support for our work. People like digestible lists and we see this as a platform to feature some of the more unusual or iconic species – in addition to species that are in areas that don’t typically receive a lot of attention. We will, however, also feature species that are not on this list and searches for any species considered “lost”.
Lastly, we want to provide a platform to share your stories. The success of The Lost Frogs campaign was not just driven by the amphibians themselves, but by the people involved. We would like to shine a spotlight on your work by featuring regular blogs of searches – both successful and unsuccessful – to provide a real behind-the-scenes look at what really goes into expeditions to uncover elusive species. Ultimately, this is your platform and we welcome any feedback on how to continue the Search for Lost Frogs in a way that is engaging and worthwhile. We also encourage you to submit data from your searches to feed into the IUCN Red List, thereby building upon our understanding of the global status of amphibians. We look forward to your input and collaboration. And of course, good luck with those searches!
By Robin Moore
See the current list of “Lost” Frogs here.