As a Media Officer for Taronga Zoo, one of the greatest things about my job is working closely with our keepers to let the world know about the animals they care for.
The other day I got the amazing opportunity to head out to Kosciusko National Park with our frog guru Michael McFadden and the Threatened Species Officer for Department of Environment, Conservation and Water, Dave Hunter on the search for Corroboree Frogs and most importantly, their eggs.
If you who don’t know what Corroboree Frogs are, they are a tiny, thumbnail-sized native frog with amazing yellow and black stripes, which live in the bog system of the Kosciusko landscape. For those of us that can remember a time before mobile phones and recall the days of phone cards...yes, those credit card looking things you would put in a public phone box to make a call, the Corroboree Frog featured prominently on them, and if you ever pick up a frog text book, more often than not a Corroboree Frog is usually on the cover because it is just so stunning and an iconic species, and its Australian!
20 – 30 years ago you would be able to visit Kosciusko and almost be deafened by calls of male frogs singing out during breeding season to attract a female, but this year our field survey only found 16 calling male frogs! Every year, due to the deadly chytrid fungus. Corroboree Frogs have been on a pretty steady decline, to the point that we now have helicopter into some really remote sites just to see one or two individuals and check their nests for eggs. Frog species worldwide are facing the biggest mass extinction since the age of dinosaurs due to habitat destruction and water pollution but mainly because of this deadly fungus which affects the electrolyte balance of the frog and causes it to have a heart attack.
To add more danger to the poor old Corroboree Frogs, this year, high rain fall was flooding remaining nest sites and killing fertile eggs, so Michael and Dave made a quick dash to the mountains to collect as many eggs as possible and bring them to the special Corroboree Frog recovery unit at Taronga to get them through the critical development stage before returning them to the wild.
Imagine our dismay after hiking and choppering into the some of the last nest sites in the wild, only to discover that they were empty because there were lone males and no females left in the country at the top of Australia. From site after site, we were coming out empty handed and then on one of our very last visits we hit the jackpot, but the nests were flooded, meaning almost certain death of the eggs!
All in all, we collected just over 460 eggs and despite thinking less than 150 might be viable, after a few days of tender care at the Zoo, over 390 eggs have turned out to still be alive. I think a few of our visitors heard cries of joy and a few unspeakable words from Michael as he sorted the alive eggs from the dead ones.
So, now Micahel’s job is to keep them alive and then in a few months time we will take them back into the wild and pop them into special tubs set in the landscape which we know are chytrid free. At the same time, we’ve got scientists working on trying to find a resistance to the fungus and Michael breeds Corroboree Frogs here at Taronga to provide an insurance against extinction. Last year, we released the very first Zoo-bred Corroboree Frog eggs back into the wild!
Although the future is by no means certain for this amazing Australian animal, I know Michael and Dave will not let it disappear without a fight and the Corroboree Frogs are very lucky to have these two guys boxing hard in their corner.