Thursday 28 January 2016

Last Known Frog of its Species Projected Onto Vatican Church (Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog) - via Herp Digest

by Tex Dworkin, 12/12/15

To coincide with the final days of the climate negotiations in Paris, the Vatican has permitted St. Peter’s Basilica to be turned into a huge backdrop for a conservation-themed art installation, with huge images of various species being projected on to the building, including mammals, fish, insects and amphibians.
One of the projected amphibians is believed to have dwindled down to a population of one—and the sole survivor lives in Atlanta, Ga.
For Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home, National Geographic photographers had their work projected onto the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Renaissance church located within Vatican City, along with selections from Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark, a project supported by the National Geographic Society that aims to bring attention to the plight of animals at the hands of human beings.
An extension of the riveting film Racing Extinction, giant images of various creatures covered the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica for three hours last Tuesday in an effort by humanitarian groups to bring attention to the ongoing Paris Climate Talks, and to recognize Pope Francis for his recent encyclical on environmental protection.
It’s not surprising that the Vatican has acted on behalf of nature’s voiceless creatures. Pope Francis chose his papal title in homage to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and in his encyclical letter released in June 2015, Pope Francis wrote, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.”
The Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog is one such disappearing species, and his image was among those projected onto the Vatican church. To find out more about this frog, I reached out to Mark Mandica, Amphibian Conservation Coordinator of the Department of Research and Conservation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He is the only person known to have recorded this frog’s call (on Dec 15, 2014, to be exact), which you can hear here.
Mandica says that the animal projections have had a large turnout. Sometimes they are just images and sounds of endangered species from around the world, and other times they include a ‘countdown’ which also displays the estimated number left of each species on earth. That’s where the Amphibian Conservation Program at the Atlanta Botanical Garden comes in. These countdown events end by displaying the Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog, which Mandica says “has been reduced to just one lone male on earth.”
The loner resides in a biosecure facility at the Atlanta Botanical Garden called the frogPOD, along with some other frog species that were rescued from Panama in 2005. When the frog’s image is projected onto the Vatican church, Mandica describes, “Generally, the audience just gasps when they see that there is (most likely) only one of these magnificent frogs left.”
Three of the amphibian species from the Amphibian Conservation Program in Atlanta have been featured in the projection events and in the recently released documentary Racing Extinction; the Eyelash Marsupial Frog, the Lemur Leaf Frog, and the lone Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog, which is a large gliding tree frog from Central Panama about the size of an adult’s hand.
Mandica explains the plight of the Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog:
“The species was only described in 2008 so we haven’t had much of an opportunity to learn about them. A small number were collected as part of a collaborative rescue mission to Central Panama in 2005. An emergent infectious amphibian disease – chytridiomycosis – was wiping out 85% of the amphibians in that region back then, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo went to Panama, ahead of the fungus, to try and save as many frogs as possible.”
He likens this mission to trying to grab your treasured belongings from a burning house. After the disease hit central Panama several species disappeared entirely from that region. The Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Tree Frog was previously only found from that area and is now believed to be extinct in the wild.
Unfortunately what few captive specimens did exist have all died out over the last 10 years except for this one lone male in Atlanta and no one has been able to breed these frogs successfully in captivity. So presumably when this last frog dies, so will its entire species. Mandica says they have no way of telling exactly how old the last Fringe-limbed Tree Frog is or how long its life expectancy is.
About the frogs he studies, Mandica say, “They are disappearing, and their declines are trying to tell us something is seriously out of balance globally.” In fact, a number of years ago, he actually changed career paths from amphibian biology to conservation biology when it became harder and harder for him to simply find the frogs he was studying.
About the Vatican illuminations, Mandica says, “I think they are a visually magnificent, non-threatening way to get the message out about the global extinction crisis. It is an important message and the public needs to be more aware of what beauty is disappearing right before our eyes.”
Mandica makes the point, “Generally speaking, amphibians are not highlighted as endangered species, but there are more endangered amphibian species than mammals and birds combined,” and that “40% of the world’s amphibian species are documented as in decline or already extinct and that is just a huge number.”

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