Water frogs and semi-aquatic frogs of the genus Telmatobius (Anura: Telmatobiidae), represent a characteristic component of anuran communities in the Andean and extra-Andean mountainous regions of western South America, from the Loja Basin in Ecuador to the province of San Juan in Argentina, through Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile. Although the genus has a wide distribution range, Water Frog species usually present restricted distributuons. The Giant Water Frog (T. gigas), for instance, has only been observed in some rivers and streams in the Huayllamarca basin in Bolivia. The Critically Endangered Salta Water Frog (T. atacamensis), in its turn, is known only from 2 localities at 3800 m in Argentina.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), out of 63 Water Frog species described, 86% are currently threatened with extinction. Even worse, eight species may be already extinct in nature, such as the Vellard’s Water Frog (T. vellardi) in Ecuador, which has not been seen since 1968.

Even though, bringing us hope, conservation efforts related to Water Frogs have been increased over the past few years. Worth mentioning are: the work of ASA partner Grupo RANA and the Denver Zoo on the Lake Junín Water Frog (T. macrostomus) in Peru; the rescue of the last individuals of the Critically Endangered Loa Water Frogs (T. dankoi) from their dried-up habitat in Chile, conducted in partnership with national and international wildlife organizations such as National Zoo of Chile, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, Amphibian Ark (AArk), the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), and ASA partner Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC); and the development of the Conservation Action Plan for the worldwide famous Sehuencas Water Frog (T. yuracare), who has become a symbol for the amphibian conservation movement. The K’ayra Center of the Museo d’Orbigny in Bolivia conducts the largest ex situ conservation program for Water Frogs in the world, currently hosting more than 600 individuals belonging to five Telmatobius species.

Why create a special day for Telmatobius Water Frogs?

It all started when more than ten zoos in Europe received Titicaca Water Frogs (T. culeus) for the first time in 2019 and showed interest in supporting their in situ conservation in South America. The idea came from BCA Zoo (UK) and ASA partner Chester Zoo (UK), who were interested in creating a day to highlight and to encourage the conservation of Titicaca Water Frogs. Based on this first proposal, we decided to expand the idea to include all Telmatobius species, since these are one of the most threatened amphibians in the Neotropics.

Even though there are already several initiatives aiming for the conservation of Water Frogs, we believe research and joint efforts should be increased. That is why the Alcide d’Orbigny Natural History Museum in Bolivia, GWC and the ASA decided to create the “World Water Frog Day”. The initiative was celebrated and joined by several institutions all around the world, such as the BCA Zoo (UK), Aark, ASG, Universidad Cayetano Heredia (Peru), Denver Zoo (USA), Natural Way (Peru), Balsa de los Sapos (Ecuador), Pro Fauna Ayacucho (Peru), Asociación Boliviana de Herpetología, Zoológico Nacional de Chile, Chester Zoo (UK), Kansas City Zoo (USA), Grupo RANA (Peru), Universidad Andrés Bello (Chile), Museo de Calama (Chile), Centro Jambatu (Ecuador), Instituto de Ecorregiones Andinas (INECOA, Argentina), Asociación Red Chilena de Herpetología, and Joel Sartore Photo Ark of National Geographic among others.

Why April 1st?

We were looking for a representative date for the entire genus and found out that this was the day when the first Water Frog individual was recorded in history. On April 1st 1831, the Prussian naturalist F. J. F. Meyen was camping in a cave in Palca (Peru) when he heard the call of the first Water Frog collected in history. These firsts individuals were later used by A. F. A. Wiegmann to describe the genus Telmatobius and the species Peru Water Frog (T. peruvianus) in 1834 and 1835.

How did we celebrate the first Water Frogs Day in April 1st 2020?

Originally, we have planned several in-person activities in different parts of the world, such as the opening of the Titicaca Water Frog Exhibitions at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and at the BCA Zoo in UK. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to cancel these actions. However, this did not stop us from filling the social networks of more than 21 institutions, newspapers and TV shows with photographs, information and videos of Telmatobius to remind the general public of its importance. We have also recognized and highlighted the institutions and people around the world who are making great efforts to conserve the Water Frogs.

We hope that every year this will be a bigger event, that will help to spread the word about the importance of conserving this group of amphibians. By doing so, we aim to encourage research and collaborations, to strengthen relationships between institutions, and to bring the people closer to this highly threatened group of animals.

By Teresa Camacho-Badani, Sophia Barrón Lavayen & Ricardo Zurita
Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny, Centro K’ayra

Photo © D. Alarcón /D. Grunbaum