Following the release of 200 captive-bred Pickersgill’s reed frogs (Hyperolius pickersgilli) at the Mount Moreland Conservancy near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal in September 2018, conservationists recently did it again. On March 5, an additional 50 frogs jumped to freedom at River Horse Valley in eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal.
This release forms part of a bigger plan to secure a future for these Endangered amphibians. At present, it is the only frog in South Africa with its own nationally recognised government rescue plan.
Initial surveys in 2008 showed that these frogs were only present at half of the sites where they historically occurred, according to Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Threatened Amphibian Programme manager Jeanne Tarrant. There are fewer than 30 locations where they occur at present, which include iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Umlalazi Nature Reserve.
Unfortunately, the Pickersgill’s reed frog only occurs in the coastal wetland habitat of KwaZulu-Natal so habitat degradation is a big threat. Wetlands are often drained for agriculture, new developments take place in these areas, and invasive species take over. Wetlands are often subject to drying out and can be exposed to pesticides and pollution, which leaves the habitat unsuitable for the frogs.
The status of Amphibians in South Africa
Amphibians play integral roles in ecosystems and are at present the most threatened class of vertebrates globally. According to statistics provided by the Department of Environmental Affairs, approximately one third of all known species are Red Listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In South Africa, 30% of the country’s frog species are listed under a threatened category and 43% of South Africa’s frogs occur nowhere else in the world.
KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the highest richness in frog species, but high levels of human activity are prevalent along the coastal regions.
Pickersgill’s reed frog captive breeding programme
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife initiated the programme and got the Johannesburg Zoo involved to breed an insurance population of the species. The specimens were originally collected in the wild to ensure genetic diversity.
The team that led the re-introduction was headed by Ian du Plessis, the curator of the project at the Johannesburg Zoo to reintroduce the amphibians back into their former habitat. More releases will take place in the future as suitable, safe habitats are identified.
Photographs provided by Department of Environmental Affairs.
Written by René de Klerk
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