The Ornate Horned Frog (Ceratophrys ornata) is an emblematic amphibian occurring in the South American temperate grasslands of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Although the species has not been recorded in Brazil and Uruguay since 1982, some populations remain in the Argentinean Pampas.

Since 2015, we have been intensively working on the Giant of the Pampas project aimed to bring on conservation actions in Argentina and to rediscover the species in Brazil and Uruguay. In early 2020 we obtained the ASA Seed Grant to fund several activities planned to carry out during one year. We designed a strategy that would include intensive fieldwork to study wild populations (e.g. reproductive behavior, occurrence areas, Bd detection) and a public engagement campaign to promote local knowledge and raise awareness to this species (including a citizen science program and volunteer training). We had not planned that humanity would go through a global pandemic that would change forever the way we live, including how we conceive biodiversity conservation in territories.

In the beginning, given the restrictions on circulation in Argentina, we thought that the activities of the whole project would be compromised, especially the field campaign planned for 100 days. Fortunately, a remarkable collaboration with the local communities materialized in Working Agreements with the authorities of two districts allowed the team members to obtain permits and move to a rural areas where the Ornate Horned Frog occurs. During six months of fieldwork we obtained novel information on the species natural history and the threats facing.

More obstacles came out when fulfilling activities that required close contact with the population. But once again, the impressive commitment of the local communities to the conservation of the Ornate Horned Frog made light of the situation, and solutions finally emerged. Despite the impossibility of holding face-to-face meetings, we overcame these obstacles and successfully achieved one of the our main objectives: the mobile app. This new app, created and developed by high school students, is a citizen science tool that allows us to obtain real-time records of the species in addition to a series of automatically generated data (photo or audio, date, time, GPS coordinates, and weather conditions). The workshops with volunteers and the outreach program also had to be reformulated in the response to the social restrictions. By adapting the contents and using virtually, we obtained remarkable results. Fourteen institutions from kindergarten to primary and secondary school worked together with team members and carried out many educational activities remotely and performed pre and post-surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of the outreach program. The possibility of conducting training courses to engage local volunteers was of vital importance since we were unable to implement the program of volunteers who usually travel from different cities around the world to collaborate with the project.

The global pandemic has forced us to reconsider conservation strategies and the way forward. The new and exciting challenges we face will find us working tirelessly for conserving the Giant of the Pampas.

By: Camila Deutsch, Ana Lis Lopez Etcheves, Sofia Perrone & Gabriela Agostini. COANA INITIATIVE and IEGEBA, Buenos Aires University/CONICET (ARGENTINA)

Photo: Matías Scincha