Traveling veterinarians help reintroduce once extinct in the wild, Kihansi Spray Toads in Tanzania.
For the first time ever in the history of our world, in 2012, a special amphibian species was returned to their natural ecosystem after being extinct in the wild. Veterinarians played an important role in the success of the reintroduction of the Kihansi Spray Toads.
It just goes to show that while veterinarians are popularly known to take care of cats, dogs and farm animals, they can also help to save an entire species.
The job of a zoo veterinarian is to ensure the toads are healthy so that reproduction is successful.
It is the collaboration of Tanzanian universities, conservationists, scientists, animal keepers, directors and all of zoo administration, that made the success of release of the Kihansi Spray Toads possible.
While many may think that this is a good ending to a story, I believe it is only the true beginning. Which is where I will start; at the beginning of a story. What drove these toads to extinction in the wild?
In an age when chytrid fungus is killing off the amphibian population at large throughout the world, the kihansi spray toads are only one of at least five-hundred affected amphibian species.
Chytrid fungus causes a devastating disease called chytridiomycosis, which appears as infections of skin cells on the pelvis, belly and digits of frogs, toads and salamanders. The condition causes thickened skin, also known as hyperkeratosis, followed by sloughing of the affected skin.
The chytrid fungus was not the main cause of extinction in the wild of the kihansi spray toads in 2009. The most significant reason for the decline of the kihansi spray toad population was potentially problematic, because it is also an indispensable resource for electricity in Tanzania.
This is a map of Tanzania. The Kihansi Spray Toads live in the Kihansi Gorge. This gorge is located about 280 miles southwest of Dar Es Salaam, in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park.
Conservationists are diligently working towards the goal of releasing populations of the kihansi spray toads back into their natural environment.
This environment is the remote mist zone surrounding the Kihansi waterfalls in Tanzania. The spray zone was key to produce an essential habitable home for these toads.
In 2009, after the Kihansi Dam was built, these toads quickly became extinct in the wild. Luckily for them, many were gathered to form a breeding program in captive institutions.
The dam is crucial for electrical supply of Tanzania, so an agreement was made between Tanzania and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to collect spray toads for conservation in zoos until a resolution for the problem is established.
Biologists released spray toads into enclosures around the gorge in 2012 to measure the success of possible release back into the wild.
An artificial sprinkler system was provided for an inhabitable spray toad environment.
- Reliance of this system, reproduction and disease will ultimately determine success of the released population in Tanzania, according to the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) and Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA).
- Scientific America states that the Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (TANESCO), are currently in charge of the spray system along with the dam.
I was fortunate to take part in this miraculous project.
When I held the first of this incredulous species in my hand I was shocked by the sheer size of this living breathing life form. An adult Kihansi spray toad was one half the size of the tip of my pinky. This tiny creature with “mini me” young instantly captivated me.
The Kihansi spray toad is a tiny toad, up to 2-3 cm (1 inch) in length.
They are extremely unique, in that they give birth to up to twenty fully formed toadlets at a time.
The Toledo Zoo and the Bronx Zoo in the United States have kihansi spray toad breeding programs, dedicated to reintroducing the species back into their native habitat.
Despite the help of conservationists, veterinarians, and entire zoo staffs, mother nature is still struggling to provide a home for these miniscule (in size, not significance) amphibians.
In 2014, destructive forces were still rearing their ugly heads in the form of herbicides from local farms up river. Pollution from pesticides is causing destruction of the Kihansi River environment resulting in changes of water flow making the surrounding atmosphere less condensed.
When the atmosphere is less saturated, mist cannot form. While the sprinkler system provides mist to the spray toads, bad farming techniques will continue to disturb the environment where these toads live.
Environmental Friendly Solutions
According to Tanzania Standard Newspapers, this time last year, thirty villages surrounding the Kihansi River needed environment-friendly farming techniques in order to continue to protect this species, as well as many other rare amphibians and butterflies.
The decision was reached to have demonstration farms where modern farming and proper pesticide application techniques will be utilized in order to prevent pollution of the Kihansi River.
So while conservationists worldwide should be celebrated for this small victory, this is not where the story ends. Institutions are continuing to effectively breed the Kihansi Spray Toads.
Communities must continue to work together to protect biodiversity and maintain the native populations of the Kihansi Spray Toads in Tanzania.