Scientists rediscover ‘extinct’ toad in Ecuador

A species of toad believed to have been extinct for more than 30 years has been rediscovered in the ‘Dracula Reserve’ region of Ecuador.

The distinctive Carchi Andean toad was found by an international team of British and Ecuadorean scientists after decades of no sightings.

A small population was discovered in the recently established Dracula Orchidology Reserve, named after the Dracula orchid prevalent there, in the north western Andes of Ecuador.

The last time a specimen of Carchi Andean toad (Rhaebo Colomai) was observed in Ecuador was in 1984 so it had been presumed extinct.

The expedition was carried out by scientists from the University of Wolverhampton, London’s Natural History Museum, University San Francisco de Quito USFQ (Ecuador) and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad INABIO (Ecuador).

Dr Simon Maddock, a reptile and amphibian expert who lectures in Conservation Genetics at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “We didn’t realise immediately what species the toad was but knew that it was something very interesting that none of us had seen before.

“It was only later that night that we started to look at it closely and realised exactly what it was; it was very exciting. Finding the Carchi Andean toad in the Dracula Reserve highlights the importance for establishing reserves in this ecologically important environment to protect the species from the impacts of human induced environmental change.”

He said the Dracula Orchidology Reserve was the only protected area in Ecuador that could maintain populations of this threatened species today. This reserve is managed by the Ecominga Foundation and is key for the conservation of not only amphibians but also other rare and threatened biodiversity, such as Dracula and Lepanthes orchids and Spectacled Bear.                                                             

The toad had had been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, a global inventory with information on the risk of extinction of biodiversity, as ‘critically endangered, possibly extinct’.

At the global level, amphibians face a high risk of extinction due to intense human pressure and in Ecuador hundreds of species are on the brink of disappearing. Causes include deforestation, environmental pollution, infectious diseases and local, regional and global climate change.

The next steps following rediscovery include the development of a monitoring programme to improve knowledge of the population status of the Carchi Andean toad in the Dracula Reserve and the search for other populations that may have survived in small patches of forest in surrounding areas.

It is hoped that now scientists are aware of the existence of the toad in northwest Ecuador that suitable measures can be put in place to protect the population.

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