Stocking up on threatened amphibians

Posted on March 27, 2017

Zoos have an important role to play in helping to conserve globally threatened species and building public awareness of biodiversity issues. Following massive declines in recent decades, amphibians are now one of the most vulnerable animal groups, with over 40% of all amphibian species classified as threatened. Despite this collapse, relatively few threatened amphibians are represented in the world’s zoos – only about 6% of species, compared with 38%, 23%, and 16% for threatened reptiles, mammals and birds respectively. The representation of threatened South American and Asian amphibian species is especially low. While numbers of threatened amphibian species in zoos have risen over the last twenty years (especially since 2004, when the Global Amphibian Assessment revealed the scale of the crisis), the rate of increase is still very low. On a more positive note, the fact that amphibians have relatively modest captive requirements means that it should be possible to maintain genetic diversity by holding populations of at least 250 animals in clusters of cooperating zoos, if not in single zoos. There’s a need for (a) more research into issues associated with the establishment of amphibian breeding programs, (b) more coordinated efforts by zoos to share expertise and build capacity, and (c) better understanding of the reasons why global holdings of threatened amphibians from some areas (e.g., Oceania and the Caribbean) have increased faster than those from other regions.

Reference: Dawson, J. et al. 2016. Assessing the global zoo response to the amphibian crisis through 20-year trends in captive collections. Conservation Biology 30 (1), 82–91.