On August 9, 2010, the Amphibian Specialist Group and Conservation International, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation, announced the launch of the Search for Lost Frogs – an unprecedented global search for amphibian species not seen this century – some not seen in close to two centuries! ASG members were pivotal in compiling the preliminary list of 100 “lost” species. Over the proceeding months, thirty-three teams comprising 126 researchers were supported in 21 countries with one goal in mind: to find the lost amphibians. Teams battled landslides and severe rains in Mexico, scoured steamy jungles in the Ivory Coast and waded up rivers in Borneo in an unprecedented unified global search for “lost” species.
The Search for Lost Frogs captivated the public in a way that I never imagined, with the initial announcement being picked up by some 150 news articles with over 200 million potential viewers. From here interest in the search snowballed as regular updates from the field spoke of the unwavering persistence and optimism required to brave the elements in the name of science. While most teams, after days and even weeks in the field, came home exhausted and empty-handed, it wasn’t long before the good news started coming in. Some fifteen species last seen between 15 and 136 years ago were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, India, Mexico and Haiti – and as the first phase of the search neared its close came the first “top ten” find: the Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad in Ecuador, Atelopus balios. A total of six press releases generated 650 news articles in 20 countries with over a billion potential viewers.
The first phase of the Search for Lost Frogs concluded in February 2011, but this did not deter researchers from continuing their search. In June, some eight months after searches began for the species, the elusive rainbow toad of Borneo – Ansonia latidisca – last seen in 1926 and one of the “top-ten” “lost” species, was rediscovered. In November, a Park Ranger conducting his daily rounds of Ha’Hula lake in Israel could barely believe his eyes when he stumbled upon the Hula painted frog – Discoglossus nigriventer – a species last seen in 1955 and pronounced extinct after the draining of its habitat – a truly staggering rediscovery that brought the total “top-ten” finds to three.
The goal of the Search for Lost Frogs was to deliver an important message about the plight of amphibians in an engaging and inspiring package. Tapping into a sense of exploration and discovery, the Search for Lost Frogs resonated with the public. The success of the campaign was thanks to the passion, enthusiasm and dedication of the amphibian community – the scientists who helped compile the list and the researchers who endured days and weeks in the field searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
As we enter phase II of the campaign under the umbrella led by the ASG, we would like your help in refreshing the top-ten list by adding three species you think deserve to be highlighted to replace those that have been found. We are therefore inviting you, before February 14 2012, to nominate which species you believe deserves to be in the top ten and why. We appreciate the subjectivity of this list – it is designed as a tool for engaging the public and therefore we will select particularly iconic, unusual or ecologically important species and will try to achieve a good global spread of selected species. Please email me with your nomination including the name of the species, last time seen, available images/video or illustrations, any known searches and plans for future searches, and a sentence explaining why this species deserves to be in the “top-ten”. We will announce the new “top-ten” on February 29.
We are also in the process of developing the Lost Frogs web page to maintain a dynamic and current onlinelist of “lost” species. Again, we look to you, the experts, to tell us when you believe a species is “lost” and when a species can be struck off this list. Species on the list should not have been seen in the past decade and its continued survival should be in question.
The continued and wide support of this campaign demonstrates not only the public awareness value of such efforts but also the potential scientific value. By sharing information on searches, the community can help to ensure that indicators such as the IUCN Red List, and other similar indicators, are incorporating the most comprehensive information available. In the case of the “lost” species this includes being able to record the amount of effort that is put into searching for a species and where those searches have taken place. By recording this information through the Search for Lost Frogs we are better able to provide supporting evidence on the actual status of species and take appropriated action.
We look forward to working with you to keep the Search for Lost Frogs alive and keep the rediscoveries coming, and welcome your feedback – please do not hesitate to email me with any questions. While we do not currently have funds to support teams searching for “lost” frogs we are seeking sponsors interested in supporting field teams and hope to be able to support future efforts to find “lost” species.
By Robin Moore
Robin Moore is the ASG Program Officer.