Amphibians—frogs, toads, salamanders and the lesser-known caecilians —are the most threatened of all vertebrates. Over 6,200 species have been identified; of those 41% are at risk of extinction and almost half are in decline. Their disappearance would have dramatic consequences for species that share the same ecosystems -including people.
The permeable skin of amphibians makes them susceptible to changes in the environment, but also arms them with significant biomedical properties. A painkiller isolated in the skin of a frog is 200 times more potent than morphine. Potential treatments for HIV and skin cancer have been isolated from the skin of amphibians. Amphibians also regulate crop pests and vectors of disease such as malaria. If we do not act quickly, we risk losing many similar benefits before they are even discovered.
The Chocó region of Colombia is a biodiversity ‘hotspot’ particularly for amphibians but it is under protected and under threat, not least from road building and pressure from biofuel and timber interests. Recent surveys located one critical area with many threatened bird species, such as the Endangered Gold-ringed Tanager, and a new species of toad, on properties that were being cleared for cattle pasture.
A project funded by SOS (Save our Species) is being carried out by IUCN Member Conservation International (CI) in cooperation with the local NGO Fundación ProAves to prevent further amphibian extinctions and secure a future for the many other species that survive here.
Two species believed to be entirely new to science, as well as numerous other threatened species, have been safeguarded by the creation of a new protected area, tackling the top threat to species in this region—habitat loss.
“Colombia leads the world in sheer numbers of threatened amphibian species. Despite the challenges there are also many opportunities for conservation with swathes of steamy jungles harbouring myriad unique species, and we are thrilled to be able to support local efforts to protect Colombia's frogs,” says Project Leader and amphibian conservation champion Robin Moore.
A research and forest guard station has been built that will help protect and manage this area. A forest guard is now situated full-time at the Reserve which is critical in enforcing protection of the area.
Ecotourism is a way of supporting the project in the long term and paying guests are now visiting the station, providing a source of revenue for the park. Local communities are being introduced to the importance of amphibians and the value of ecotourism in generating income—this goes hand-in-hand with conservation.
Amphibians are at risk from a lethal cocktail of threats that include disease, climate change and pollution. Stemming the decline and extinction of amphibian species will require targeting the continued loss and degradation of habitat. Because of their typically small home ranges, amphibians can be safeguarded through the protection of relatively small tracts of suitable habitat and provide an ideal target group for action to halt biodiversity loss.