In October 2010, a team of scientists set out for the remote mountains of southern Haiti in search of lost frogs. The expedition—led by Dr Robin Moore of Conservation International and Dr. Blair Hedges of Penn State University—was part of a worldwide Conservation International project aimed at finding amphibians that have not been sighted in over a decade and which are feared to be extinct.
Haiti's amphibians are gravely threatened by the near total clear-cutting of the country's tropical forests. Less than two percent of Haiti's original forests remain intact and as a result, 92 percent of the country's 49 known native amphibian species are threatened.
Dr. Moore and Dr. Hedges explored two mountain forest regions of Haiti, the Massif de la Hotte in the southwest and the Massif de la Sell in the southeast. They had hoped to find just one of Haiti's elusive frog species. Instead, they found six critically endangered frogs, none of which had been seen in nearly twenty years.
Pictures from the expedition can be viewed here.
For a country that has dealt with the devastation and pain of the 2010 earthquake which struck just outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the rediscovery of these rare endemic frogs provides a beacon of pride and hope amidst otherwise incomprehensible struggles.
"The devastation that the people of Haiti are still coping with is almost unimaginable. I have never seen anything like it," said Dr. Moore in a recent press release.
"Clearly, the health of Haiti's frogs is not anyone's primary concern here. However, the ecosystems these frogs inhabit, and their ability to support life, is critically important to the long-term well-being of Haiti's people, who depend on healthy forests for their livelihoods, food security and fresh water. Amphibians are what we call barometer species of our planet's health. They're like the canaries in the coal mine. As they disappear, so too do the natural resources people depend upon to survive," Dr. Moore added.
The six species of frogs rediscovered by Dr. Moore and Dr. Hedges included five species last seen in 1991—the Hispaniolan ventriloquial frog, Mozart's frog, La Hotte glanded frog, Macaya breast-spot frog, Hispaniolan crowned frog—and one species last seen in 1996—the Macaya burrowing frog.
Haiti has suffered many environmental and human disasters in addition to the January 2010 earthquake. More recently, the country has been battling a cholera outbreak. In the midst of these human struggles, the natural environment of Haiti is also suffering. Without the immediate action by international conservation organizations and government agencies, Haiti will surely experience widening habitat destruction and mass extinctions. The rediscovery of six frog species previously feared to be extinct offers renewed hope for conservationists and evidence of the resiliency of the region's rare wildlife.
Photo (top) © Dr. Robin Moore / iLCP. Macaya Burrowing Frog, Eleutherodactylus parapelates, a critically endangered species from the Massif de la Hotte, Haiti. Prior to October 2010, the species was last seen 1996.
Photo (bottom) © Dr. Robin Moore / iLCP. Ventriloqual Frog, Eleutherodactylus dolomedes, a critically endangered species on the Massif de la Hotte, Haiti. Prior to October 2010, the species was last seen 1991.
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