Rescue for Recovery
Endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs get an emergency evacuation for treatment
by Michelle Donlan and Lisa Hupp, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Perched at the edge of a tiny mountain lake in the high Sierra on August 27th, the bright yellow helicopter sat ready to assist a dramatic rescue operation. Two biology technicians carefully carried buckets and a large cooler across the rocky landscape towards the waiting pilot and wildland firefighting crew. The helicopter team loaded the containers, waved goodbye and lifted off. They skimmed down from the remote high country of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, on a mission to deliver the precious cargo of critically endangered juvenile mountain yellow-legged frogs and tadpoles to waiting staff from the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos.
The rapid and severe decline of the mountain yellow-legged frogs led the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list them for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. Introducing predatory fish to mountain lakes has had a devastating impact on the frogs, but their latest challenge comes from an emerging, highly infectious fungal disease of the skin called chytridiomycosis (chytrid). This disease is now on every continent that has amphibians and has led to the extinction or decline of over 200 species of frogs and salamanders in just 15 years. While researchers cannot eradicate the disease, they can investigate ways to help amphibians develop resistance and support declining populations until they can recover. For this project, the idea was to collect early-stage froglets and tadpoles and rear them in captivity where biologists can intervene and give the frogs a “head start.” Juveniles that are vulnerable in the wild develop in the safety of a zoo’s lab, where they are inoculated against the disease, mature in just six months, and can then be reintroduced back into their native habitat.
This summer’s rescue targeted two populations of mountain yellow-legged frogs in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in danger of being extirpated. For them, the future looks hopeful: the majority have already metamorphosed into active frogs and are gradually building their immunity for a return to the wild in the summer of 2016.
To learn more and read the full story of this dramatic rescue, click here.
Chris Templeton and Larissa Perez/NPS
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