Two hundred captive-bred endangered Pickersgill’s Reed frogs have been released in Mount Moreland and Prospecton in eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal.
The Department of Environmental Affairs, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Johannesburg Zoo released the frogs on Monday in areas where their parents originated. The release of the frogs took place one year after the publication of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog (Hyperolius pickersgilli).
The aim of the Biodiversity Management Plan is to improve the conservation status of Hyperolius pickersgilli and secure its future survival in the wild.
Environmental Affairs said the major benefit of the species management plan will be to obtain the support of owners, managers and occupiers of land on which the frogs occur for implementation of conservation actions.
“Among the management actions being taken is a breeding programme by Johannesburg Zoo to create sustainable insurance populations of endangered amphibians that can be introduced or re-introduced back into their natural environment whenever a need arises,” the department said.
Amphibians play integral roles in most ecosystems and are presently the most threatened class of vertebrates globally, with approximately one third of all known species Red Listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
This situation is reflected in South Africa, with 30% of the country’s frog species listed under a threatened category.
Overall, 43% of South African frog species are endemic to the country. Of these, 35% are in a threatened category, and all but one of the threatened species are endemic.
The department said the highest species richness for frogs occurs in KwaZulu-Natal, an area that has been recognised as being important for both frog endemism and having high levels of human activity, particularly in the coastal regions.
Pickersgill’s Reed Frog is a small frog known only from limited and highly fragmented coastal wetland habitat in KwaZulu-Natal, mostly commercially-owned land.
“Without concerted proactive conservation intervention, it is highly likely that the species will become extinct,” the department said.
The Pickersgill’s Reed Frog is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red Data List and by South Africa’s Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act.
The species is KwaZulu-Natal’s only amphibian species with this status.
Threats include habitat loss as a result of wetland drainage or destruction for agricultural, urban and industrial development; severe habitat fragmentation; alien vegetation and afforestation resulting in drying out of breeding sites, and pollution from pesticides and other contaminants.
In 2017, Johannesburg Zoo and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife signed an agreement to breed and re-introduce the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog.
This entailed collecting wild specimens and breeding them at the zoo in order to maintain a healthy and genetically diverse “insurance” population.
The zoo was able to collect 20 specimens from two sites. About 200 captive-bred offspring were released in the Mount Moreland and Prospecton areas – a first for South Africa. - SAnews.gov.za