The beautiful and charismatic Harlequin Toads (Atelopus), which range across the Neotropics from Costa Rica down to Bolivia, are among the most threatened group of amphibians in the world. Despite their important role in cultures they touch across their distribution and their vital role in the ecosystems in which they live, entire species of harlequin toads have been vanishing since the 1980s. The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis– Bd), combined with habitat destruction and degradation, introduction of invasive species such as Rainbow Trout, and the effects of climate change, have left 80 of the 96 harlequin toad species Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct or, like the Panamanian Golden Toad, Extinct in the Wild, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As of 2018, 37 harlequin frog species had disappeared from their known localities and have not been seen since the early 2000s, despite efforts to find them. TheAtelopus genus is in critical condition, and its rapid and poorly explained declines are driving the entire genus to extinction. Without a coordinated response of the most effective actions, we risk losing this incredible genus to extinction.

Global Wildlife Conservation, in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Amphibian Survival AllianceIUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, Amphibian Ark, and others, is spearheading efforts to develop and foster a coordinated harlequin toad conservation network committed to ensuring we don’t lose these jewels forever.

We are calling for ASA partners to join a network of national and international conservation groups and zoos, academic institutions and governments working together to implement substantial, long-term, range-wide conservation measures for this unique group of amphibians. The Atelopus Survival Initiative and the members of the network together aim to:

  • Unite and mobilize the harlequin toad community into a collaborative network.
  • Develop a coordinated, standardized, and long-term conservation strategy to ensure harlequin toad survival inside and outside of their natural ranges.
  • Identify and implement priority actions collectively at the national, regional, and international level to save this group of amphibians across the range countries in a cost-effective way.
  • Promote the conservation of harlequin toads through education and communication campaigns.
  • Provide capacity building and training to herpetologists and amphibian conservationists.

As a first step to accomplish this, we will conduct a 4-day workshop in Medellin, Colombia in November with key Atelopus expertsand conservationists working across range country and internationally in-situ and ex-situ. The workshop will establish the initiative’s mission, vision, form, and function, update the current conservation status of the genus, share and standardize conservation actions, and formulate a roadmap of actions to be implemented collectively. This roadmap will form the basis of an action plan that will prioritize the conservation needs and strategies by site, country, and species, and will define the implementation of those actions based on the capacity and cost needs, as well as the opportunities present.

ASA partners can support these efforts in several ways. We’re looking for your expertise and initiative partners and for funding to implement the goals of the initiative. Together we can restore harlequin toads and protect their habitat. If you’re interested in joining this critical initiative, please contact Lina Valencia at [email protected].

Photo: Atelopus laetissimus from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia © Fundación Atelopus