A giant leap for Pickersgill’s reed frogs


During September, 200 captive-bred Pickersgill’s reed frogs (Hyperolius pickersgilli) jumped to freedom at the Mount Moreland Conservancy near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. The release is an effort to ensure the survival of this little amphibian in the wild.

Pickersgill’s reed frogs are extremely habitat specific and restricted to Indian Ocean Coastal Belt wetland along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Much of their preferred habitat has been severely transformed by drainage for sugarcane in the past, and more recently by urban development and mining.

As part of her PhD study through North-West University, Dr JeanneTarrant started with surveys for the species in 2008 to determine where thefrogs still occurred. “We surveyed all of the historic sites and found themonly at about half – the rest were too transformed to support the species anylonger,” says Tarrant, now manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s ThreatenedAmphibian Programme.

Image by Jeanne Tarrant

The findings of this work, and the 2010 categorisation of the species as Critically Endangered, led to the official acceptance of the Pickersgill’s reed frog Biodiversity Management Plan in 2017, making it the first amphibian to receive its own nationally recognised government rescue plan. 

There has also been some good news. The number of known sites where the frog occurs has climbed from 20 to 26, and in 2016 the species was down-listed to Endangered. In October 2018, another protected area – the Empisini Nature Reserve on the South Coast – was added to the list of known localities. The frogs are also found in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Umlalazi Nature Reserve. “The rest of the sites are unfortunately at the mercy of habitat degradation as a result of lack of management,” says Tarrant.

As part of the management plan, the EWT has been working to rehabilitate four sites in Durban through the eradication of invasive vegetation. In total, between 2015 and 2018, approximately 1 000ha have been cleared and 1 000 indigenous plants planted at sites where the frogs occur. “There are several large projects along the coast that are looking at rehabilitating, or in some cases recreating habitat that is suitable for the species,” explains Tarrant. In addition, the EWT is also working towards the formal declaration of new protected sites, especially through community custodianship.

pickersgill's reed frog with eggs
Image by Carl Schloms

Pickersgill’s reed frogs, which reach a maximum size of 29mm, are found in dense reed bed wetlands within 13km of the coastline. They change colour as they mature. Juveniles are pale brown to light green, while adult females are usually bright green, and males are darker brown, often with a white stripe down their side, and yellow throats. The Johannesburg Zoo took care of the breeding and retains stock of the captive-bred individuals as part of population. There are plans to release more of these special frogs back into the wild in the future.

Written by René de Klerk

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