We all know about the devastating predictions regarding species extinction. And we also know that we’ll only succeed in slowing down the grim trend if all stakeholders committed to conservation work together in a cooperative and open-minded way.

From the very beginning, Frogs & Friends has collaborated closely with zoos and private amphibian enthusiasts. These two stakeholders have a wealth of knowledge and experience in captive breeding. Zoos have been working for decades to establish well-coordinated, scientifically led breeding programs for a variety of species, while private experts have built up expertise in fostering a variety of species.

New insights prompt new ideas. In the light of the massive extinction event we’re facing, and in the spirit of the One Plan approach, we are convinced that captive breeding programs must be an essential part of any strategy to preserve biodiversity. That is why Frogs & Friends teamed up with the VdZ (Verband der Zoologischen Gärten) and DGHT (German Society for Herpetology) to jointly launch what we see as the next important step: the Citizen Conservation project.

Citizen Conservation aims to help solve two major problems:

First, extinction of species: If we want to save a relevant number of threatened species, we’ll have to quickly expand the amount of available space and the number of knowledgeable caretakers. Zoos won’t be able to achieve this goal on their own.

Second, public misconceptions about captive breeding: Zoos and private breeders are facing significant opposition at both a societal and a legislative level. If we want to safeguard our potential to help solve the existing challenges in the field of biodiversity loss, we have to convince society of the importance of our work.

Citizen Conservation, therefore, has to be two things from the very beginning: a breeding program and a campaign. We have to make it clear that captive breeding is part of the solution, not part of the problem – and we’ll have to prove it.

For the last three years, we’ve been busy with preparations, interviewing dozens of captive breeding stakeholders, marketing professionals, and media experts to create a viable framework for the project to succeed. One key insight was that almost all stakeholders suffered from a perceived lack of acknowledgment for their efforts by the public and even by the conservation community. Consequently, reframing this upside-down perception of captive breeding must be the key target of the Communication Campaign.

With Citizen Conservation #Amphibians we have now started a five-year pilot phase that will help us test and improve our organizational structure and procedures, management and participation guidelines, marketing and communication strategy and, of course, funding. This process of evaluation and adjustments will give us a solid base on which to build as we scale up Citizen Conservation both geographically and taxonomically.

The program currently includes five species. We have plans to expand to between 10 and 15 species within the next four years. Meanwhile, we hope to be able to open up the first Citizen Conservation Centers in zoos. These will serve as training centers, breeding facilities and give volunteers a chance to get involved. It is a quite ambitious agenda. However, we are optimistic that it will soon be clear that the benefits far outweigh the obstacles–and that Citizen Conservation will demonstrate its potential to effectively contribute to our shared task: finding effective ways to slow the extinction crisis.

By Björn Encke (CEO Frogs & Friends)

Photo: Showing a stiff upper lip: Captive breeding is part of the solution, and we’re doing it. Period. Doris Preininger and Thomas Wampula from Tiergarten Schönbrunn Vienna © Frogs & Friends/Benny Trapp