I am not alone in harbouring a slightly sceptical view of zoos, however, I have recently come to realise their value when it comes to conservation efforts.
Case in point the Kihansi spray toad. This little guy is a native of Tanzania, discovered in the Kihansi Gorge, living in a micro-habitat created by the spray of the waterfall.
Its habitat was so specific that a small change to the environment could upset the whole population. And what they got was a big change. In 1999 a hydroelectric dam was built which reduced the waterfall mist-zone by 90%. This combined with a chytrid fungus is said to have had devastating effects on the toad population. 2005 was the last time the toads were seen in the wild and in 2009 the Kihansi spray toad was declared Extinct in the Wild by the IUCN.
As the population had been declining though, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Tanzanian government reached an agreement regarding captive breeding of the toads. Nearly 500 of the amphibians were shipped off to commence a breeding programme at the Bronx Zoo in the United States. Later the project extended to the Toledo Zoo too.
This month, WCS, the zoos involved and the Tanzanian government released 2000 Kihansi spray toads into the gorge, marking the first amphibian species to be reintroduced to its natural habitat after being declared extinct. Dr Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO said, “The reintroduction of the Kihansi spray toad to the Kihansi Gorge is a momentous achievement in conservation. It clearly shows how zoos can play an important role in conservation. This has been a truly global effort to save a species. This project proves that through partnership and science – wildlife can prevail.”
While the toads were being bred in the US, the Tanzanian government was supervising the Lower Kihansi Environment Management Project. After construction of the dam, a misting system was installed to artificially replicate the waterfall’s spray that maintained the toad’s moist two-hectare habitat.
A close eye will be kept on the Kihansi Gorge population and their habitat, while a small assurance population will be maintained at the Bronx Zoo and another at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Time will tell what happens to these little toads, but their future definitely looks a little brighter.
Note: This information is compiled from a WCS press release.