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Zoos leap into action to help save frogs

Auckland City Council
Media release

29 February 2008

Zoos leap into action to help save frogs

Auckland Zoo is inviting Kiwis to join it in leaping into the global Amphibian Ark Year of the Frog campaign, which will be helping to save the four endangered New Zealand native frog species.

Tonight’s Wild Bean Cafe ZooMusic Katchafire concert will help raise funds for in-the-field testing for amphibian chytrid fungus in Hochstetter’s frogs. It marks the first of a number of events and activities the zoo will run through to March 2009 to generate awareness of and support for frog conservation.

After thriving for over 360 million years, a third of the world’s 6300 amphibian species are now threatened with extinction. Despite new species being discovered, scientists say extinctions are exceeding discoveries.

Topping the list as the most evolutionarily distinct and critically endangered amphibian on the planet is New Zealand’s own native Archey’s frog – for which Auckland Zoo has a dedicated breeding and research facility. New Zealand’s other three frog species – Hamilton’s, Maud Island, and Hochstetter’s all fall within the top 100 most threatened amphibians These, and thousands of other amphibians, are in crisis due to the deadly disease amphibian chytrid fungus (not treatable in the wild) as well as habitat loss, pollution, pesticides, introduced species, and climate change.

In response to the crisis, the World Conservation Union and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums have formed the Amphibian Ark (AArk). AArk, with the backing of patron Sir David Attenborough, is undertaking to raise $US50 million to globally rescue endangered frogs and breed them within captive facilities until threats in wild populations can be controlled. It will also assist conservation efforts to conserve species in the wild, and invest in research to address amphibian diseases.

“Auckland Zoo is joining with other zoos in the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria to achieve the regional goal to raise $AUS400,000,” says Auckland Zoo conservation officer and Year of the Frog co ordinator, Peter Fraser.

“Along with the urgent task of saving frogs, 2008 will also be about celebrating these extraordinary vertebrates which play such a vital role in keeping ecosystems in balance. Our four New Zealand native species are unique and exquisite creatures – the most ancient and primitive in the world – yet probably very few Kiwis have even heard of, let alone seen them. We hope to change that, to raise the profile of our frogs so that people can come to know and value them as much as some of our other ancient iconic fauna like our kiwi and tuatara,” says Mr Fraser.

People keen to jump in and support the zoo’s 2008 Amphibian Ark Year of the Frog campaign can do so by making an online donation to the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund at www.aucklandzoo.co.nz, (please specify that the donation is for frog conservation). Donations can also be sent to Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, Private Bag, Grey Lynn, Auckland.

For more information about Year of the Frog, and frog conservation at Auckland Zoo, visit www.aucklandzoo.co.nz. Visit www.nzfrogs.co,nz www.edgeofexistence.org and www.amphibianark.org for more information.

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Notes to the editor

Auckland Zoo Native Frog Research Centre
This dedicated facility for the captive breeding, research and advocacy of New Zealand native frogs, opened in late 2004. It is currently home to over 60 critically endangered Archey’s frogs. A quarantine facility, it replicates the Archey’s moist, mist, cool, high altitude forest habitat. (Archey’s frog is found in just two sites in the North Island – in the Coromandel and the Whareorino Forest, west of Te Kuiti).

The Zoo’s New Zealand Fauna team and veterinary staff work closely with the Department of Conservation (DOC) Native Frog Recovery Group in the conservation of this slow-breeding species. A number of clutches (that have included some fertile eggs), have been laid in the last several years. For the first time, in December 2007, a froglet successfully hatched.

“While this little one only survived a short time, this is a great achievement, and illustrates that these frogs are happy breed, and can breed,” says NZ Fauna team leader, Andrew Nelson.

Research
Auckland Zoo’s first veterinary resident in conservation medicine, Dr Stephanie Shaw, has been awarded an international research award to progress her Hochstetter’s frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri) project – mapping the national distribution of the disease, amphibian chytrid fungus. Such work for this endangered endemic frog species has not been undertaken before. The Australasian Annual Research Student Award 2007 is awarded by the Australian chapter of the American-based global organisation, the Wildlife Disease Association (WDA).

As part of her PhD topic, the ecology of disease in New Zealand native frogs, Dr Shaw is also mapping the national distribution of amphibian chytrid fungus in New Zealand’s other three endemic frog species – Archey’s frog, Maud Island frog, and Hamilton’s frog.

NZ endemic frogs (Leiopelmatidae): distinguishing features
The four surviving species of New Zealand frog are found only in New Zealand. Regarded as “living fossils”, they are very similar to frog fossils found in Queensland Australia from the late Jurassic period around 150 million years ago.

Have no external eardrum, and round (not slit) eyes

Don’t croak regularly.

Don’t have a tadpole stage. Instead the embryo develops inside an egg, and then hatches as an almost fully-formed frog). Young are cared for by parents – in the case of Archey’s, the male carries his young off-spring around on his back.

A very primitive feature retained by Leiopelma frogs is their tail-wagging muscles (known scientifically as the caudalipuboischiotibialis muscles), although they no longer have a tail to wag. Other unique or unusual features of these frogs include the presence of elongate pieces of cartilage in the muscles of the abdomen (also called “inscriptional ribs”).

Archey’s frog (Leipelma archeyi)
Size: 37mm – the smallest of NZ’s four endemic frogs
Age: Over 50 million years
Found: Coromandel, and Whareorino Forest, west of Te Kuiti
Habitat: Misty, moist areas above 400m altitude
Threats: Amphibian chytrid fungus, predators, loss of habit
Status: Nationally Critical

ABOUT AUCKLAND ZOO

Auckland Zoo is an enterprise of Auckland City Council. It is home to the largest collection of native and exotic wildlife species in New Zealand (over 1300 animals and 179 species) and attracts over half a million visitors annually. It is becoming increasingly well known nationally and internationally through the award-winning television programme, 'The Zoo'. At the heart of all Auckland Zoo's work and activities is its mission: "to focus the Zoo’s resources to benefit conservation and provide exciting visitor experiences which inspire and empower people to take positive action for wildlife and the environment". Auckland Zoo is a member of both the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks & Aquaria (ARAZPA) and the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums (WAZA).

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