August 4, 2009—"We don't think they are poisonous, but they certainly taste bad," an ecologist says of Australia's corroboree frog, an endangered species that has now been successfully bred in captivity. Video.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
The tiny northern Corroboree Frog of Australia is only just hanging on.
Populations of both the northern and southern Corroboree Frogs have declined catastrophically in the wild over the last two decades.
The primary culprit is the deadly chytrid fungus which has devastated frog populations across the world.
The Corroboree Frog suffered another crippling blow in 2003, when bushfires destroyed most of the alpine habitat the frogs call home. The loss of habitat due to drought and human-introduced animal grazing have also negatively impacted the frog populations.
With fewer than 100 breeding pairs remaining in the wild by 2008, its estimated the northern Corroboree Frog has become virtually extinct in the Australian Capital Territory.
SOUNDBITE (English) Murray Evans, Senior Ecologist, Australian Capital Territory Government: "Corroboree Frogs are fascinating species, they are only occur in the high altitude areas of the Australian Alps, nowhere else in the world and their bright colorings, we believe serve as a warning signal to other animals. Black and yellow in the environment is generally a warning color. They have chemicals in their skin that show affinities to the poison arrow frogs in other countries. We don't think they are poisonous but they certainly taste bad. There are no known predators of the adults."
If current trends continue experts believe the species faces the real threat of extinction in the next five to ten years.
Last year government scientists made a breakthrough: at Tinbinbilla Nature Preserve, they bred the frog in captivity for the first time, producing around 100 frogs.
This year they've produced one thousand precious eggs and most have begun hatching into tadpoles.
Experts are optimistic, they believe the long term survival of this species is looking much brighter.
SOUNDBITE (English) Murray Evans, Senior Ecologist, Australian Capital Territory Government: "And if current trends continue we think that that species faces the real ex.. The real threat of extinction in the next five to ten years. So this population is key to the survival of Corroboree Frogs in the wild."
It's a painfully slow process.
Corroboree Frogs produce only about 25 eggs a year compared to the twenty thousand made by cane toads.
The success of the captive population gives new hope to the species.
SOUNDBITE (English) Murray Evans, Senior Ecologist, Australian Capital Territory Government: "This captive population does that. It buys us time, it gives us a window of opportunity that we can help overcome the effects of this deadly disease."
The ultimate goal of the breeding programs is to release the frogs back into the wild within the next two years.