Two Devon conservationists are taking a pre-Christmas trip to Africa in an attempt to help save rare frogs
While most of us are getting ready for the festive season, Mike Bungard, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, will be in Tanzania.
He will be accompanied on the trip by the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust overseas conservation officer Andy Bowkett, who has been to Tanzania many times to track rare antelope and collect data.
Mike said: “We are going to the Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania to look at setting up conservation projects and partnerships to help East African amphibians. Andy’s experience in the country will be really useful. One of the hardest things is building trust with local communities and establishing a network – it makes life much easier when you can inherit one.
“We are particularly interested in the Udzungwa Scarp Forest Reserve – a small, poorly protected forest with at least four endangered frog species found nowhere else in the world. However, we know so little about life cycles or biology for these species that we are effectively starting at the beginning. The Udzungwa Mountains are a biodiversity hotspot - mountains and islands tend to have high rates of endemism due to their isolation.”
Paignton Zoo’s Amphibian Ark species rescue and reintroduction centre, which opened in August 2009, was built to help save species in Madagascar, Tanzania and Trinidad.
While in the country they aim to meet key staff of the University of Dar es Salaam who were central in saving the Kihansi spray toad from total extinction - it is now extinct in the wild as of the beginning of November. Mike also hopes to talk to staff at the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre and representatives from the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
“This is a reconnaissance trip, a fact-finding mission. I hope it will lead to practical work, but first we have to learn what needs to be done.”
In addition, senior reptile keeper Rod Keen is to visit Jersey Zoo to learn about specialist amphibian husbandry, while reptile keeper Sam Lomax will spend two weeks at Melbourne Zoo in Australia, which has one of the most advanced amphibian facilities in the world.
Mike and Andy return in mid December. Research trips to Trinidad and Madagascar could also be on the cards during 2010. Out of the world’s 6,000 known amphibian species, 50% are threatened or endangered, compared to 10% of mammal species.