Of Dogs and Frogs: Sniffing out one of South Africa’s Most Threatened Amphibians

South Africa

The Critically Endangered Amathole Toad, Vandijkophrynus amatolicus, is one of South Africa’s rarest frogs. Having disappeared for 13 years between 1998 and 2011, the species made it onto the IUCN’s Lost Frog search campaign list in 2010. Despite a concerted search effort in August of that year (and in years prior), the toad remained AWOL and rumors of its extinction emerged. Then, in 2011 Jeanne Tarrant and Michael Cunningham turned up a single female as well as a few egg-strings and tadpoles in a near-by road puddle, sparking new hope for the existence of the species.

In 2012 a single male was located at a new location, and in 2013 a total of three Amathole Toads were found during the breeding season. So we know it’s still out there, but compared to historical reports of hundreds of individuals per sighting, the Amathole Toad remains elusive. We’ve since developed an ecological niche model based on known records and ecological requirements and we are using this to guide ongoing surveys.

Independently, the North-West University’s African Amphibian Conservation Research Group (Potchefstroom, South Africa) has started investigating the use of sniffer dogs to search for fossorial frog species. They have successfully trialed this novel approach on the Giant Bullfrog, Pyxicephalus adspersus, a species locally threatened in Gauteng Province. The aim of this project is to make use of this ‘frog-sniffing’ method to help in the search for the Amathole Toad. This will be the first project of its kind in South Africa focused on a threatened frog species.

The project will take place within the toad’s very limited range, restricted to the Hogsback Region of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The sniffer dog, a frisky border collie called Jessie, will be trained prior to the trip based on scent samples obtained from an Amathole Toad (or the closely related Karoo Toad). Using our predictive model as a guide, we will focus our searches within areas of probable toad habitat, during the breeding season for this species with an initial field trip planned for February/March 2015). This project will provide the necessary information to more fully understand the status of the Amathole Toad and to help prioritize sites for long-term protection, management and monitoring strategies. Conservation plans are currently being developed and will made available to the relevant land-owners on whose property the species is known to occur.

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Location
South Africa

Project Description
This project will provide the necessary information to more fully understand the status of the Amathole Toad and to help prioritize sites for long-term protection, management and monitoring strategies.

Target Species
Critically Endangered Amathole Toad (Vandijkophrynus amatolicus)

Team Members

Dr. Jeanne Tarrant, EWT – project coordinator

Prof. Ché Weldon, NWU – sniffer-dog supervisor

Este Matthews, NWU – MSc student and dog trainer/handler

Christine Coppinger, EWT – field officer

Funding Needs
If you would like to further support this project or invest in the Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Seed Grant program please contact Candace M. Hansen-Hendrikx, Director of Communications & Partnerships.

Your donation will make an immediate, real, and lasting impact. As a global alliance with partners generous enough to cover our operational costs, we are able to channel 100% of your donations directly to helping save these amphibians.

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