Denver Zoo, state partner to boost toad numbers

Zoo, Colorado Parks and Wildlife join forces for endangered species

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The Denver Zoo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have teamed up to help save the boreal toad, which is a state-listed endangered species.

On Nov. 10, conservation and amphibian experts with the Denver Zoo traveled to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility (NASRF) in Alamosa to pick up 95 boreal toads to serve as an additional breeding population for the species.

“We have had success in the past producing boreal toad eggs and tadpoles at NASRF, but it is challenging, and with the increasing need for more animals, we need to step up breeding and reintroduction efforts,” said Harry Crockett, the native species aquatic species coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a news release. “This is a great opportunity for boreal toad conservation and collaboration with a strong conservation partner in Denver Zoo. We will really benefit from their expertise (and) experience in the conservation and breeding of boreal toads and other endangered amphibian species.”

The Denver Zoo has been active in amphibian conservation for more than 15 years, working with critically endangered species such as the Lake Titicaca frogs, among others.

According to a news release, “the NASRF is dedicated to protecting and restoring threatened and endangered aquatics species native to Colorado … Since its inception in 2000, the NASRF has protected 16 different fish species and has stocked more than 2.1 million fish in rivers, streams and lakes across the state.”

Once at the zoo, the 95 boreal toads were put in a specially-designed facility for brumation, which is a natural state of inactivity during winter months. This spring, attempts at breeding them will begin, with the hopes that as many as 20,000 tadpoles can be released into the Colorado wilderness in the summer.

As part of the wild release program, the zoo will launch a community science project where volunteers can help monitor the survival of the released toadlets and help evaluate potential release sites around the Colorado, states a news release.

According to the news release, the boreal toad was once common in montane habitats between 7,000-12,000 feet in the southern Rocky Mountains, but the species has experienced dramatic population declines in the past two decades.

“The decline appears to be related to habitat loss and primarily infection by the chytrid fungus, which can infect the majority of the world’s 7,000 amphibian species, and is linked to major population declines and extinctions globally,” states the news release.

Officials with the zoo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimate that it will take many years to bring the species back to a level where it is secure in the southern Rocky Mountains, states the news release.

“Boreal toads are in a lot of trouble, but their numbers are still relatively strong even though their population is in decline,” said Stefan Ekernas, Rocky Mountain/Great Plains program director at the Denver Zoo, in a news release. “Colorado Parks and Wildlife has done a tremendous amount of work on the conservation of boreal toads for almost 30 years, and we’re excited to join in the effort to help the species make a meaningful recovery while there’s still time.”

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