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World's zoos to launch campaign to save frogs from deadly fungus

World's zoos to launch campaign to save frogs from deadly fungus

In a global effort to save amphibians from a deadly disease, zookeepers around the world want to turn 2008 into the "Year of the Frog."
As many as 2,000 of the world's 6,000 known amphibian species _ like frogs, toads and salamanders _ are in danger of extinction due to the spread a parasite fungus called chytrid, which causes frogs to suffocate.
"This is the biggest extinction crisis since the last age of the dinosaurs," said Jeffrey Bonner, chairman of Amphibian Ark, an initiative that hopes to collect 500 frogs from each of at least 500 different species for breeding programs.
"Amphibians have been on planet Earth for 360 million years," he said. "Now we stand to lose one-third to one-half of those species within the blink of an eye."
Having 500 frogs from each species in "protective custody" would be the minimum needed to ensure proper genetic diversity for breeding.
Speaking at a meeting of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, WAZA president-elect Gordon McGregor Reid said the program could replenish natural stocks once the disease either faded away or could be cured.
"Very many amphibian species are no longer safe in nature" because of the chytrid fungus, McGregor Reid said, comparing the ailment to humans' athlete's foot, a fungus which lives on the surface of the skin.
WAZA member Jorg Junhold said Amphibian Ark hoped to raise US$50 million to US$ 60 million (euro37 million to euro44 million) for the breeding program.
Junhold, the director of the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, called attention to the fact that 2008 was a leap year and that Feb. 29, 2008, would be declared "Day of the Frog," a fitting occasion for the leaping amphibians.
"The outcome of the Amphibian Ark project will be that we will have saved hundreds if not thousands of species from extinction," Junhold said.
Bonner, who also heads the Saint Louis Zoo in the United States, said the chytrid fungus originated in South Africa and spread to other continents over recent decades as the African clawed frogs were used around the world by the thousands for human pregnancy tests.
"Chytrid is only lethal at certain altitude and temperature ranges," Bonner said. "Unfortunately, where it's most lethal is where we have the greatest diversity of amphibians."
"That is why we are going to lose between a third and a half of the amphibian species in the next few years."
Bonner added that frogs were an important part of ecosystems, being both predators and prey.
"Frogs are disease-control agents. Imagine would will happen with no frogs to eat mosquitoes, with no frogs to be eaten by birds," he said. "We don't know what the implications are ... but we're terrified by that and we must act together now."


Updated : 2021-07-28 22:41 GMT+08:00