Of the five major categories of vertebrates, amphibians are the most threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species. That isn’t only bad news for all the frogs, toads and salamanders of the world, but also for all the rest of the living creatures on Earth, because amphibians are the bellwethers of change in our environment – the metaphorical “canaries in the coal mine” of our pollutive and destructive lifestyles. Most amphibians have thin, moist skin through which they breath, making them highly sensitive to any changes that occur in their environment, whether that be a small change in average temperatures or a new chemical introduced into the ecosystem. And as their populations continue to face extensive dangers in some parts of the world, it won’t be long before the repercussions are felt by all of us.
Not only are they the most threatened of the vertebrates, but amphibians are also one of the most dependent upon their environment. Most require very specific conditions from their habitats — a clean water source for juveniles’ development, as well as safe terrestrial habitats for adults, which results in extremely range-restricted populations. This is showcased well by one of Rainforest Trust’s newest protected areas: the Onepone Endangered Species Refuge in Ghana.
Although this refuge protects many endangered species, the primary species targeted for the protected area was the Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frog. When the IUCN conducted the first Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA) in 2004, this species was identified as being on the verge of extinction. Now, with the establishment of this new refuge, likely the largest population of the Togo Slippery Frog is being safeguarded. But the protections don’t end there. The refuge is also safeguarding numerous other threatened or endemic species like Critically Endangered Hooded Vultures, Vulnerable Black-bellied and White-bellied Pangolins, a plethora of endemic butterfly species and additional amphibian species.
This refuge may only be 847 acres — an area likely too small to afford much protection to a much larger animal species like the African Elephant that also roams through Ghana — but it is exactly the right protected area for this habitat and the species that call it home. Within this rainforest, a forest stream flows, giving life to amphibians and local communities alike. And while this stream had been traditionally used as a source of drinking and bathing water, causing high levels of degradation to the amphibian populations, the two local communities understood this to be unsustainable. These communities came together with each giving up part of their ancestral lands to make this designation a reality. In return, the communities will receive a much safer source of freshwater from two solar-powered, underground water wells.
Another great example of amphibian-focused reserves impacting other threatened species and humans is the Cerro Chucantí Nature Reservein Panama. This project, on which Rainforest Trust is currently working with local partner ADOPTA to expand by 127 acres, protects numerous endemic and threatened amphibian species, in particular some that are new to science and expected to be listed as critically endangered when the IUCN completes its assessment. The reserve also affords protection to Endangered Great Green Macaws and Baird’s Tapirs, Vulnerable Giant Anteaters and Great Curassows and iconic animals such as Mountain Lions and Harpy Eagles.
In all, Rainforest Trust has completed projects that safeguard the habitats of 19 percent of all amphibian species on Earth, while future project sites will increase this protection to an additional six percent of amphibian species. Amphibian-focused protected areas are a necessity for ensuring both land and aquatic ecosystems are safeguarded from human activities that can and do have negative impacts on the rest of the planet. More evidence of this will likely be front and center at the second GAA that is expected to be released by 2020, depending on the availability of necessary resources.
By Alyssa Wiltse-Ahmad
Media Relations Officer
Photo: Endangered Ukami Reed Frog © Herp Conservation Ghana