June 7, 2006

CORRECTED: Two frog species feared extinct found in Colombia

Corrects name in third paragraph to Sierra Nevada de Santa
Marta from Sierra Madre de Santa Marta after correction from

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Two frog species feared extinct have been
rediscovered in Colombia, a boost for scientists battling to
save rare amphibians threatened by a deadly disease.

"These finds show there is still hope...a lot of these
species were pretty much written off," Claude Gascon, a senior
vice-president at Conservation International in Washington,
told Reuters on Tuesday.

Scientists have found the Santa Marta Harlequin frog and
the San Lorenzo Harlequin frog, rated critically endangered
after no sightings in 14 years, in a reserve in the Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta massif on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

A fungal disease that smothers amphibians' skin is
decimating dozens of species of brightly-colored frogs in
Central and South America, adding to pressures such as
pollution, climate change, deforestation and expanding cities.

The rediscovery of another species -- a painted frog -- in
Boyaca, Colombia, was announced last month.

Some scientists say amphibians are on the front line of
what may become the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs
vanished 65 million years ago.

Gascon said it was not clear if the frogs had resisted the
skin fungus -- chytridiomycosis -- or were in a region as yet
unaffected. The disease had killed frogs 40 km (25 miles) from
the site of the two latest finds.

Alarmed by extinctions, amphibian experts are seeking more
than $400 million to fund captive breeding in zoos and
aquariums -- already aiding about 35 species. However, frogs
cannot be re-introduced to the wild because of the disease.


"We can treat the disease in captivity but any
re-introduction program is doomed to fail," said Joe Mendelson,
a curator at Zoo Atlanta and the acting head of the amphibian
specialist group at the World Conservation Union.

"Capture programs are usually all about supporting
populations in the wild. Because of the disease this can't
work," he said. He said captive breeding could be expanded to
help "hundreds, if not thousands, of species."

Amphibians -- toads, frogs, newts and some worm-like
creatures -- are highly vulnerable to disease, pollution or
changes in temperature because they live on both land and in
water and have a porous skin that absorbs oxygen.

Some vanished species might have had skills valuable to
humans. The Australian Northern Gastric Brooding frog,
considered extinct and not sighted since 1985, could shut off
its digestive juices to incubate its young in its stomach.

"You can imagine the kind of knowledge in terms of helping
fight ulcers that the gastric brooding frog might have held,"
Gascon said.

Gascon said the rediscovery of the frogs showed that
preservation of small habitats -- such as the El Dorado reserve
where the two frogs were found in Colombia -- could be a key to
saving many threatened species.

A global group of conservationists, the Alliance for Zero
Extinction, said last year that preserving 595 sites around the
world could help save 794 endangered species.