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A Slippery Slope

Posted by Stacey Sekscienski on 02/16/2012

A Slippery Slope

 
By: Stacey Sekscienski, Curator of Reptiles, Amphibians, & Aquatics, Oklahoma City Zoo

Almost half of the world's known amphibians are in trouble. One third of the world's amphibians are threatened with extinction and half of those will need to be maintained in a managed environment to keep the species from going extinct. Six percent are near threatened and 25% of amphibian species are in need of more research to determine their status in the wild.

Why are so many amphibians struggling to survive? Well, there are several causes, some of which you have the ability to help reverse, and some that have not completely been pinpointed. Either way, we all affect amphibian survival by many of the decisions we make every day.

So You Want a Salamander for a Pet?
Many amphibian species are negatively affected by the pet trade. The capture of wild caught individuals for-profit can not only wreak havoc on a wild population of animals but also facilitate the spread disease when these animals are shipped to another destination.

A Fungus Among Us
Chytrid fungus or Bd (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidi), has the ability to affect most of the known 6,000 amphibian species. It can remain active in the environment for months and is spread through water and other moist materials. This fungus has caused many declines of amphibian populations across the world including the United States. Fortunately, in controlled environments, Bd can be treated, but it still requires the careful management of the animals in this situation. And many of our wild animal populations are still at risk, as the task of treating wild animals is insurmountable and not feasible. This fungus in several parts of the world has always been present in the wild; however it is thought that the movement of animals either for the pet trade, food, and laboratory needs introduced it into the Americas.

Monster Frogs!
Introduced amphibian species that are not normally found in an area can have a negative impact on the native amphibian populations. The American bullfrog is responsible for facilitating the spread of chytrid fungus to many populations of native amphibians. Not only have bullfrogs negatively affected amphibian fauna by spreading disease, they have huge appetites and will feast on anything they can manage to swallow including endangered amphibians. The bullfrog invasion has mostly stemmed from intentional release of animals into habitat for human consumption and insect control and accidental escapes from farming facilities.

Pulse of the Planet
So, what does the health of our amphibian populations tell us about the health of our planet?
Because amphibians breathe through their skin and much of their life cycle is tied to water, they are sensitive to changes in temperature and air and water quality. Habitat destruction and loss is the number one cause of amphibian declines. Their responses to these changes in environment can give us an indication of how well we are treating the planet. Not only can amphibians tell us about our planet’s health, they can also directly contribute to human health by providing vital compounds for various medicines that can be used to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

While it is a fact that many amphibians are facing an uphill battle to survive, there are many things that you can do to make that climb to recovery a little less tough for these incredible creatures.

Read about amphibians and why they are a vital part of the ecosystem.

Do your homework on properly caring for amphibians before considering a pet. Never purchase pets obtained from the wild and only purchase from a reputable source.

Help control the spread of chytrid fungus and invasive species by never releasing a pet into the wild.

Be an Environmental Steward! Do your part to protect wild habitats and watersheds by supporting preservation of wild spaces and keeping our water sources free of trash and contaminants.

Create a wildlife habitat in your own backyard and keep it pesticide free. Build a Toad House or create a pond!

Support your local zoo and other organizations that are helping to conserve amphibians.

On February 29th, the Oklahoma City Zoo will open several new exhibits that will highlight several remarkable species of frogs and toads.  Hop on over to the Island Life Building to see Puerto Rican crested toads, climbing toads, Solomon Island leaf frogs, mantella frogs and more and learn about these magnificent amphibians! 

Learn more about amphibians and their plight to survive:

http://www.amphibianark.org/

http://www.amphibians.org/

http://www.iucnredlist.org/

http://www.okczoo.com/

 



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