News Release

Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351, sondra.katzen@czs.org

April 23, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NOTE: Download images of the Togo slippery frogs and tadpoles at Brookfield Zoo at CZS.org/PressRoom.

Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frogs Thriving at Brookfield Zoo

Husbandry Success Brings Hope for the Survival of Wild Population

Brookfield, Ill. – Although Brookfield Zoo is closed to the public, animal care staff is still dedicated to helping efforts to help increase the population of the critically endangered Togo slippery frog, once thought to be extinct in Africa.

The species is found in only two isolated regions in Ghana, and along the border of Togo and Ghana—areas that total less than 4 square miles. Unusual for its large eyes and large back legs, the frog grows to only about 3.5 inches. It spends 90 percent of its life in fast-flowing water, which is essential to its breeding success. Its evolutionary distinctiveness and global endangerment have made conservation of the Togo slippery frog a top priority across the globe. A very shy species, it is closely related to the largest frog in the world—the Goliath frog, also from Africa.

Thousands of miles from Africa, in a behind-the-scenes area at Brookfield Zoo’s Swamp exhibit, animal care staff has created an environment it knows to be ideal for successfully breeding these elusive frogs. Zoo staff has also made surprising discoveries about the species, including the frog’s unusual, high-pitched mating call that can be heard under crashing waterfalls, and a “sucker-disk” on its belly that provides traction in fast-flowing water.

“This project has been particularly satisfying because we knew virtually nothing about this frog when we began, and have learned so much along the way,” said Andy Snider, curator of herps and aquatics, for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “We hope the success we are having in breeding the species in managed care, will one day help the wild population.”

In 2015 and 2016, two small populations of the species were discovered in Togo streams by the organization Pangolin Conservation. Soon after, a small group of tadpoles was sent to Brookfield Zoo where a breeding program began with the goal of maintaining a sustainable population in managed care. The breeding-program population would save the species from extinction if the frogs became threatened by catastrophic conditions in the wild.

Since little research has been done on how to care for the species, CZS staff created a husbandry plan based on similar, predominantly aquatic frogs. The tadpoles were divided into two groups—each group was placed in a habitat that mimicked a separate waterfall and pool system of their native environment.

Staff was successful in bringing 11 tadpoles to adulthood. Since the launch of the breeding program at Brookfield Zoo, more than 200 metamorphosed juveniles have been produced from the initial group of frogs, although not all of them survived. In addition, several dozen tadpoles hatched recently at Brookfield Zoo. Specimens will eventually be sent to other zoos in North America and Europe, an insurance policy of sorts in case one facility’s specimens suffer a setback. “It’s never good to keep all your eggs in one basket, so to speak,” said Snider.

Now, the techniques developed by CZS animal care staff are being used to help set up a conservation breeding facility for the species in Ghana. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – the international conservation charity behind London and Whipsnade Zoo – is also providing their expertise. A former ZSL EDGE (Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered) Fellow is leading the development of the project. Now based at the conservation charity Herp-Ghana, he was previously part of ZSL’s EDGE of Existence program.

“It’s great to see that a prior EDGE Fellow is leading the way to support the long-term conservation of an important EDGE species – this is exactly the purpose of the program,” said Ben Tapley, curator of reptiles and amphibians at ZSL. “And of course, conservation breeding programs in zoos play an essential role in helping to further the understanding of the natural history and husbandry techniques required to grow populations of such threatened, yet fascinating, amphibians like the Togo slippery frog. The project and engagement with CZS are really positive steps for the species.”

What remains of the small wild population is at risk due to habitat degradation caused by farming, logging, and mining. In addition, Togo slippery frogs are severely hunted for the bushmeat trade because the meat of the frog is high in protein. “Some may ask, ‘Why put so much effort into saving the Togo slippery frog?’” added Snider. “But every living creature has a purpose, whether it provides a source of food for other animals or pest control by eating small invertebrates. It’s a ripple effect when a species goes extinct.”

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About the Chicago Zoological Society

The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. Open every day of the year, the zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit CZS.org.

About ZSL

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realized through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit zsl.org.

ZSL’s EDGE of Existence program ranks species according to their evolutionary distinctiveness (the amount of unique history they represent) and global endangerment (their extinction risk). Species that are both highly distinct and highly threatened are immediate priorities for conservation attention. There are currently EDGE lists for amphibians, mammals, corals and birds. Research is underway to expand the approach to additional taxa.

The EDGE of Existence program aims to increase awareness of forgotten EDGE species, build conservation capacity in countries in which they occur - through awarding Fellowships to future conservation leaders - and initiate targeted conservation action for priority EDGE species that are being overlooked by other conservation initiatives. For further information please visit: edgeofexistence.org.

Photo Captions—credit Chicago Zoological Society
6309, 6310, 6312 - Togo slippery frogs
6356, 6270 - Togo slippery frog tadpoles
5089 - A male Togo slippery frog

MEDIA CONTACT:

Sondra Katzen
Media Relations Manager
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071
E-mail: Sondra.Katzen@CZS.org

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