LOST FROG SPECIES RE-DISCOVERED IN HAITI
One year ago, a powerful earthquake devastated Haiti, causing catastrophic loss of life and infrastructural collapse in the already poverty-stricken country. Today, the damage is still widespread — in Port-au-Prince, most streets still look like disaster zones, and the tent cities erected as temporary shelters remain home to 1 million people.
With the world's collective eyes on Haiti, and international relief efforts underway, Conservation International's (CI) Amphibian Conservation Officer Dr. Robin Moore set out to examine the status of some of the country's stressed ecosystems. In October, Moore embarked on an expedition to find amphibian species not seen in more than a decade in Haiti's fragmented forests. This search had surprising results — the rediscovery of several species not seen in almost 20 years.
Amidst the suffering that continues to plague Haiti, the presence and discovery of these frog species is a sign, however small, of hope. These species, bellwethers of ecosystem health, offer encouragement that while much of Haiti's human landscape still lies in ruins, at least some of its natural landscape is in better health — and the valuable services it offers can be a key to not only the nation's recovery, but also to a more prosperous future.
Haiti's Amphibians: A Global Conservation Priority
Even before the earthquake, Haiti was on the brink of ecological collapse. Deforestation has been rampant over the past few decades; only 1 percent or so of the country's original forest cover remains. These days the main threat is the charcoal industry, a major economic activity for Haitians — and often the most profitable product they can sell.
Moore's journey to Haiti was part of CI's Search for the Lost Frogs, an ongoing global search for amphibian species not seen in at least a decade. Moore co-led the expedition with Dr. Blair Hedges from Pennsylvania State University — an expert in Caribbean herpetology who was the last person to see many of these species. The main object of their search was the La Selle grass frog (Eleutherodactylus glanduliferoides), a species not seen since 1985.
In the southwestern part of the country, the scientists divided their field work between two forested areas designated as priority conservation areas by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), a global partnership of conservation organizations. The biggest site, called Massif de la Hotte, was designated the third-highest priority site in the world by AZE. Home to at least 15 Endangered and Critically Endangered amphibian species found nowhere else, this mountainous region is "the only site left in the country with good forest cover," said Moore.
Although they didn't find the "lost" frog in question, the week-long expedition did unearth 23 of Haiti's 49 known native frog species — six of which hadn't been seen in 19 years. Among the rediscoveries: the ventriloquial landfrog (Eleutherodactylus dolomedes), which was previously only known from a few specimens. As its name implies, this species can project its voice to sound as if it's coming from somewhere else, making it extremely difficult to locate. Moore and the other researchers spent hours trying to home in on one individual.