Photographing extinct species

This is something that none of us ever want to do but, if you photograph enough frogs, sooner or later one of them is likely to become extinct: an estimated 30% of all amphibian species are likely to be lost forever in the next 50 years.

Atelopus ignescens, Paramo near Guaranda, Ecuadorian Andes, now extinct

Atelopus ignescens, Paramo near Guaranda, Ecuadorian Andes, now extinct

For instance, in 1985 on my first trip to Ecuador, I found and photographed some black Atelopus ignescens toads on the Paramo of Ecuador, just north of Guaranda.  I had been looking specifically for these toads, which live well above the tree-line and which are jet black above and orange below. They weren’t hard to find – on getting out of my car I could see several, in broad daylight, making their way across the grassy hillsides: in fact, they were everywhere.  But within a few years they had disappeared completely; none have been seen since 1989.

Atelopus species have been especially hard hit by the decline in amphibians across the world.  Of the 113 species at least 30 have become extinct in recent years, 21 of these from the high Andes.  Most of the remaining species have suffered population declines of at least 50% and scientists estimate that only about 10 species have stable populations. One species, the Panamanian golden toad, Atelopus zeteki, is the subject of a captive breeding programme in its native country because all wild populations are infected with chytrid fungus and are likely to die out.

Causes of amphibian declines – which affect species in most families, not just the Atelopus toads – are varied and include habitat loss, climate change, pollution and infection by a fungal disease, chytridiomycosis.

A full account of these causes and effects is given in “Extinction in Our Times: global amphibian declines” by James P. Collins and Martha Crump (Oxford University Press) the source of much of the information I used for the chapter on conservation in my own recently published book “Frogs and Toads“.

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