Toads from Toledo zoo released into wild in East Africa

11/1/2012
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kihansi-spray-toad

The Kihansi spray toad, a native of Tanzania.

Editor's note: This version corrects the date that the toads were released.

The Kihansi spray toad, a native of Tanzania.
The Kihansi spray toad, a native of Tanzania.

More than 10 years af­ter a hand­ful of tiny Ki­hansi spray toads ar­rived at the Toledo Zoo, some 2,500 of the lit­tle guys and gals were re­leased this week into the wild of their na­tive Tan­za­nia.

It was a ma­jor step in the quest to breed and re­in­tro­duce the spe­cies that dis­ap­peared from the wild in 2004 and was de­clared ex­tinct in the wild in 2009.

“As of to­day they are re­in­tro­duced into the wild,” a ju­bi­lant Jeff Sailer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Toledo Zoo, said Wednesday. “It will take some time be­fore the dif­fer­ent pow­ers that be around the world officially say they’re back, and there prob­a­bly al­ways will be a lit­tle as­ter­isk by it since there will be some type of hu­man in­volve­ment.”

While the toads — 1,000 from the Toledo Zoo, 1,000 from the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and 500 raised in Tan­za­nia — were re­turned to the very small hab­i­tat in which they were dis­cov­ered in 1996, a sys­tem of sprin­klers was first in­stalled to rec­re­ate the ef­fects of the wa­ter­fall in the Ki­hansi River Gorge. The wa­ter­fall had been greatly re­duced by the con­struc­tion of a hy­dro­elec­tric dam there in 1999.

“The big ques­tion now is, ’What will these 2,500 frogs do?’ ” Mr. Sailer said. “Will we go back in a year and there will be 10,000 of them run­ning around all over the place or will there only be a few left?”

The toads let loose on Tuesday have been given iden­ti­fy­ing marks. The adult toads are small enough to perch on a quar­ter; their off­spring, which are born fully formed, are the size of a large fruit fly.

“The big suc­cess would be find­ing an un­marked frog in the next few months,” Mr. Sailer said. “That would mean not only did re­pro­duc­tion oc­cur, but that the baby was able to grow, de­velop, and be­come an adult.”

Dis­ease, which is be­lieved to have been a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the spe­cies’ de­mise in the first place, is one of the big­gest dan­gers the toads will face.

R. An­drew Odum, the zoo’s her­pe­tol­ogy cu­ra­tor, was in Tan­za­nia with the zoo's chief vet­er­i­nar­ian, Dr. Chris Han­ley. Mr. Sailer said Mr. Odum told him that work­ing on the re­in­tro­duc­tion of the spe­cies was “the hall­mark” of his ca­reer.

“The level of col­lab­o­ra­tion, from the Tan­za­nian gov­ern­ment and the par­tic­i­pat­ing zoos to the Tan­za­nian field bi­ol­o­gists and stu­dents who shared their knowl­edge with us, has been noth­ing short of in­spir­ing,” Mr. Odum said in a state­ment re­leased by the zoo.

Zoo of­fi­cials ex­pect to con­tinue re­leas­ing more of the Ki­hansi spray toads into the wild while main­tain­ing “an as­sur­ance col­ony” at the zoo. Mr. Sailer sus­pects there al­ways will be a home for them at the Toledo Zoo’s Amaz­ing Amphib­ian ex­hibit.

“It’s a great ed­u­ca­tion story, and it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple here in the com­mu­nity to see what their zoo is do­ing here and what their zoo is do­ing world­wide,” he said.

As Cris­tian Samper, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Wild­life Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, which man­ages the Bronx Zoo, put it, “The re­in­tro­duc­tion of the Ki­hansi spray toad to the Ki­hansi Gorge in Tan­za­nia is a mo­men­tous achieve­ment in con­ser­va­tion. This has been a truly global ef­fort to save a spe­cies.”

Con­tact Jen­ni­fer Fee­han at: jfee­han@the­blade.com or 419-724-6129.