Toughie, the last Rabbs fringe-limbed tree frog, lives in the frogPod at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Right: Frosted Flatwoods salamanders, native to Georgia, are critically endangered.
What’s in your Backyard? photo: Dominic Chavez. GRAPHIC: © Inktear/ Dreamstime.com
by laura turner seydel
What if I told you there was an entire underground world below you right now? The frogs you may see in your backyard are a tiny portion of the amphibian world surrounding you. According to Mark Mandica, Amphibian Conservation Coordinator at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG), “If you weighed all the spotted salamanders, they’d weigh more than all the mammals and birds combined in a healthy ecosystem.” Salamanders on average live 50-51 weeks underground, until they emerge for their breeding season. Frogs and salamanders come in many shapes, sizes and colors and are critically important to ecosystems around the world. Unfortunately amphibians are dying off in huge numbers in a global mass extinction. Reasons are varied, but chief among them are habitat loss and the chytrid fungus. In the mid-’90s, then Amphibian Conservation Coordinator of ABG, Ron Gagliardo, started what is now one of the oldest amphibian conservation programs in the country. He and several botanists started working with frogs as a way to illustrate plant and animal relationships at the garden. From there the program gained momentum and started safeguarding rare plants and animals. Their work reached a crisis level in 2005 when the chytrid fungus was sweeping through Central America. ABG and Zoo Atlanta went ahead of the fungus and collected as many frogs as possible. After the collection, that same year the fungus killed 85% of amphibians in the region. Famed National Geographic photographer and creator of the Photo Ark, Joel Sartore, likened this to rescuing precious items
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from a burning house. Thank goodness they did because the frogPod at ABG is now home to some of the world’s rarest frogs (frogpodblog.blogspot.com). I took my children for a behind-the-scenes tour at ABG shortly after Ron and Joe Mendelson, director of Herpetological Research at Zoo Atlanta, returned from their rescue mission. We met them on our tour, and our whole family was totally inspired by their work. It was the beginning of long friendships, but it was my then 9-year-old daughter, Laura Elizabeth, who was truly moved. She befriended Ron and wrote a children’s book with his help, Our Friends the Frogs, with proceeds donated to Ron’s Amphibian Ark. ABG’s conservation program is centered around Captive Assurance Colonies which are collections of endangered animals kept safely in captivity, and bred with the hope they may one day be returned to the wild. For some like Toughie, the last Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog known in existence, this will never be a reality. For other species at the frogPod there is hope, but currently it is still not safe to