Calgary Zoo Leaps Ahead to Protect Endangered B.C. Northern Leopard Frog

Calgary, AB – With only one surviving native population of the B.C. northern leopard frog left in the wild, the Calgary Zoo is focusing its world-renowned conservation expertise on this endangered species. The zoo is launching a reintroduction breeding program, the second of its kind in Canada, to help this species as part of a larger recovery effort.

“The northern leopard frog is considered to be the most endangered frog in British Columbia and are genetically distinct from others found in Canada”, says Lea Randall, Population Ecologist, Calgary Zoo. “One third of the world’s amphibian species are at risk of extinction. We know that frogs play vital roles in our ecosystems and by having an on-site reintroduction conservation program will help to ensure their survival into the future, and ultimately help global amphibian conservation efforts.”

Since 2003, the zoo has been conducting research on the population dynamics of leopard frogs to help recover populations in Western Canada. As an active member of the B.C. Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team, the zoo has been involved in reintroduction efforts to help prevent local extinction and aid in the recovery of B.C. northern leopard frogs. A single remaining native population in B.C. exists within the Creston Valley, but this population is vulnerable to habitat loss, road mortality and disease. There are also two additional reintroduced wild populations as a result of the work of the recovery team.

In order for the conservation breeding program to begin, initial founder frogs have arrived from the Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative which has had an established northern leopard frog breeding program since 2013. As the Calgary Zoo program grows, additional eggs or tadpoles will be brought in from the wild to help maintain the genetic diversity of the zoo’s reintroduced populations.

The zoo’s reintroduction breeding program has been designed to closely replicate wild conditions to ensure the frogs experience the highest level of health and welfare standards, as well as encouraging natural behaviours such as breeding. Large outdoor ponds have been created and the zoo is working with a Calgary-based company, Biopod, to create unique self-contained indoor ecosystems that replicate real environmental conditions. It is hoped that these frogs will begin to breed as soon as 2019 so their offspring can be released into the wild.

“Establishment of an additional assurance population at the Calgary Zoo is an important step forward in the preservation and recovery of endangered northern leopard frogs in British Columbia, and will be a meaningful conservation achievement,’ says Lindsay Anderson, Rare and Endangered Species Biologist, Kootenay Boundary Region Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “Likewise, this population will contribute to recovery efforts by boosting reintroductions of young back into the wild. The Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team looks forward to seeing progress from this conservation effort.”

Due to their declining abundance and distribution, B.C. northern leopard frogs are designated as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Frogs play vital roles in our ecosystems and are crucial members of aquatic and terrestrial food webs. They are important indicators of wetland health, meaning that when the population of the leopard frog declines, there is something terribly wrong in the ecosystem and other living things in the habitat are in jeopardy.

Source: Calgary Zoo