A “lost” toad rediscovered: We join the effort to protect Rhaebo olallai

Fig. 4. Andinophryne ollalai
Juvenile Rhaebo olallai, a “lost” amphibian recently rediscovered after a 43 year disappearance. Photo by one of the rediscoverers, Ryan Lynch.

In my last post I wrote about the amphibian experts who had secluded themselves in a remote cloud forest lodge, San Isidro, in order to work on updating the IUCN Red List status of 200 Ecuadorian frog species. They have finished their task, but the proposed threat categories for each species still need to be reviewed by other specialists. The categories assigned to each species will only become official after this review.

Nevertheless for some species, conservation can’t wait, and I will write a few posts here about some species that we believe are likely to be officially classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, and which require urgent conservation action.

Andinophryne ollalai
Another view of Rhaebo olallai, the Tandayapa Andean Toad. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the most dramatic frog conservation stories involves the Tanadayapa Andean Toad, Rhaebo (formerly Andinophryne) olallai. This species was first discovered in 1970 near the town of Tandayapa about 50 kms west of Quito, but then it disappeared. The area has become a very popular ecotourism destination and is often visited by scientists, so its disappearance from the area seems to be real and not the result of lack of searching. In fact the area was searched multiple times by trained herpetologists looking specifically for this toad, for a total of at least 150 hours of search effort, without success. Another Ecuadorian member of the genus, R. colomai, also disappeared shortly after its discovery, and the current IUCN Red List notes that R. colomai may be extinct.

In 2012 biologists Ryan Lynch and Sebastian Kohn (whose parents are EcoMinga board members) were surveying the forest of Manduriacu, 40 kms north of the site where R. olallai had been discovered forty-three years earlier. They were surprised to find an unusual fancy toad during their night walks, and immediately realized this was something special. Upon investigation they realized that they had rediscovered R olallai! And not just a few individuals. They eventually found large numbers of them, in all age categories. Their photos were the first ones ever published of live individuals. They also were the first humans to see the fancy color pattern of the juveniles, as shown in Ryan’s photos at the top of this post. As they mature they lose their pattern, as shown in the photo below. These dramatic color changes are not found in most other species of the genus.

Andinophryne ollalai
Adult Rhaebo olallai. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The rediscovery was described in a scientific article, and also in article for the Amphibian Survival Alliance. The latter article explains the conservation situation of this toad:

Its scarcity earned the species a spot on the World’s “Lost Frogs” List by Conservation International. “This is a truly exciting and important rediscovery,” stated Dr. Robin Moore who launched the Global search for Lost Frogs, adding “In order to prioritize what and where to protect, it is imperative to know whether rare species such as this still exist. Hopefully this remarkable find will lead to some concrete conservation actions to ensure the species stays off the Lost Frogs List.”…

The article continues:

The region surrounding Manduriacu has received attention by conservationists in recent years due to the expansion of hydroelectric, mining, and logging activities, all of which could threaten the well-being and survival of unknown numbers of rare and endangered species such the Tandayapa Andean Toad in the region. “The last time we visited the property we encountered a freshly clear-cut plot of land less than a kilometer from the rediscovery site, which is home to the only currently known population of the species” stated Lynch, adding “so land preservation in the region can’t come quick enough.”

Santiago R. Ron from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Universidad Católica del Ecuador, who oversees ongoing population studies of Andinophryne [Note added by LJ: that genus is now included in Rhaebo] in Ecuador stated “The discovery of the Tandayapa Andean Toad in Manduriyacu demonstrates that the forests have unique properties and, presumably, unique communities”, adding “so the study and conservation of this area should be considered a priority for both the Ecuadorian government and the international conservation community.” In addition to the Tandayapa Andean Toad, four threatened amphibian species have been recorded in Manduriacu…

Fig. 1. Manduriyacu Location
Map of Manduriacu.


The habitat of Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

One of the other threatened amphibian species of Manduriacu is the Darwin-Wallace Poison Dart Frog, Epipedobates darwinwallacei, recently described by Diego Cisneros-Heredia and EcoMinga director Mario Yanez. It is endemic to foothill forests just west of Quito, in Pichincha, Santo Domingo, and Cotopaxi provinces. Poison dart frogs are unusual among frogs for the care they give to their offspring; the adults sometimes carry their tadpoles on their backs to put them in new pools of water in the canopy, often bromeliad crowns. Females of some species visit these pools and lay infertile eggs in them to feed their offspring. The first photo below shows an adult carrying tadpoles.

Another rare and local endemic is Lepidoblepharis conolepis, restricted to Pichincha and Cotopaxi provinces:

Lepidoblepharis conolepis
Lepidoblepharis conolepis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Some other reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu, all from Ryan Lynch’s website:

Anolis gemmosus
Anolis gemmosus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Anolis aequatorialis
Anolis aequatorialis. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis muricatus
Pristimantis muricatus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Diaphorolepis wagneri
Diaphorolepis wagneri. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Centrolene peristictum
Centrolene peristictum. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Espadarana prosoblepon
Espadarana prosoblepon. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Hyloscirtus cf. alytolylax
Hyloscirtus cf alytolylax. Note that this species is hiding under a leaf while calling, exactly like the Hyloscirtus I had photographed in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Pristimantis scolodiscus
Pristimantis scolodiscus. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

Since this is the only known place in the world where the Tandayapa Andean Toad exists, and since other very rare species are also present there, clearly this threatened forest should be preserved. Sebastian Kohn has long been committed to conserving this forest, and he was able to buy several lots in the Manduriacu watershed where the toad lives. These lots total 969 acres and range in elevation from 1100 to 2100m. He enrolled these properties in the Ecuadorian government’s SocioBosque program, which pays the owner to conserve the forest. Sebastian uses all of the annual government payment to fund the salary of a permanent forest guard, who happens to also be the president of the local community.

Shortly after they rediscovered the toad, Ryan and Sebastian approached us for help in protecting this watershed, and we agreed. The Manduriacu lots protected by Sebastian are now under our control. Sebastian has turned them over to us to manage, and will give us all the money he receives from the SocioBosque program, to pay our costs for that management, so that there is no cost to us. In addition he has generously agreed to donate all of his land to EcoMinga when his SocioBosque contract ends. (We do not want him not to donate it to us now, because that would cut off the SocioBosque management money; the SocioBosque program applies only to individuals and communities, not to foundations.) So we are proud to announce that Manduriacu becomes EcoMinga’s newest reserve, with Sebastian’s original purchases as its core!

However, there is still a 325 acre property in the middle of this watershed that has not been bought. It splits our protected forest in half. EcoMinga has still not been able to find all the funding for this purchase. We have promises of about $10,000 but need another $63,000 for the lot. (We may be able to buy it with less money if we can find an entity that would match the donated funds; we have sometimes been able to do this in the past.) This property contains excellent primary forest and lots of wildlife, including big cats, peccaries, and much else. The highest parts, at 2000m elevation, have not yet been explored but should contain a very high diversity of Dracula orchid species (and these would mostly be different species from those in our Dracula Reserve, which is much farther north near the Colombian border). If there are any US readers who would like to help us with this purchase, the Orchid Conservation Alliance can accept donations and give tax deductions. Please specify that your donation should go to EcoMinga/Manduriacu, and also write me to let me know.

Note added July 28 2016: Something seems to be wrong with the Orchid Conservation Alliance Paypal button; it will be better to send a check directly to them and write an email to the president, Peter Tobias, with copy to me, advising him that the donation is for EcoMinga/Manduriacu:
Peter Tobias, President
Orchid Conservation Alliance
564 Arden Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024
USA
Thanks Jim Knight for bringing the problem to my attention.

The Manduriacu forest contains important mammals like the Brown-headed Spider Monkey, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and many other species. Below is a herd of Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) eating its way through the Manduriacu undergrowth at night:

and a Brocket Deer (Mazama species):

And here is a potential predator of the peccaries and deer, a Puma (Felis concolor):

There is also evidence that jaguars use the forest, including this camera-trap photo:

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian's camera trap in Manduriacu.

Apparently a Jaguar (Panthera onca) passing close to Sebastian’s camera trap in Manduriacu.

But the weirdest animal of all is the Pacarana (Dinomys branickii), which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

For more inspiration see all of Ryan Lynch’s beautiful photos of the reptiles and amphibians of Manduriacu Reserve:
http://ryanlynch.zenfolio.com/manduriacu

More info on Ecuador’s amphibians:
Amphibians of Ecuador, Universidad Catolica de Quito: http://zoologia.puce.edu.ec/Vertebrados/Anfibios/AnfibiosEcuador/Default.aspx

Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

5 thoughts on “A “lost” toad rediscovered: We join the effort to protect Rhaebo olallai

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