One of SA's rarest frogs, the Pickersgill's reed frog. Picture: Sam Phillips

Pretoria - One of South Africa’s most endangered amphibians has recently found a home at Pretoria Zoo.

The zoo acquired 10 critically endangered Pickersgill’s reed frogs (Hyperolius pickersgilli) last month as part of a breeding programme which is being undertaken in association with Johannesburg Zoo.

These tiny frogs, approximately 3cm long with a bright green back, come from the wetland areas along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

Their natural habitat is under threat and 30 frogs have been removed from their habitat to form part of a breeding programme at the zoo. Twenty of these are beuing kept at Johannesburg Zoo as part of this breeding programme, under the auspices of the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Paazab).

This breeding programme is the first of its kind for the conservation of an amphibian species in Southern Africa.

“It is a privilege for the Pretoria Zoo to be playing a role in such a new and exciting conservation project,” said Michael Adams, the zoo’s reptile conservator.

“It is of great significance not only to the survival of this species but also to amphibian conservation in Southern Africa as a whole,” said Ian Visser, curator of fish, reptiles and amphibians at the Joburg Zoo.

Visser said one of the programme’s goals was to be able to breed the frogs on demand should anything happen to their current habitat. Breeding the tiny amphibians would also help in case a new habitat needed to be populated.

Visser said the fact that the frogs’ habitat was under threat also needed addressing. He said the mid-term focus of the project was to rehabilitate and maintain their existing habitat as well as protect frog populations in the wild.

He said it was also crucial to look at the creation of new habitats.

There are only 17 areas left that are home to these tiny frogs, of which only two are in protected areas. The wetland areas where the frogs occur stretch between the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, in the north, and Kingsburgh in the south.

Visser said the wetlands were under threat by farming, urbanisation and alien tree plantations. “This (the destruction of the habitats) is currently our greatest cause for concern,” said Visser.

As the breeding of the frogs is a conservation effort, they are not on display at the zoo as yet.

Visser said if the breeding programme was successful, there would soon be enough frogs to put on display.

“The purpose of the frogs at this stage is to learn how to look after them properly and this requires for them to remain isolated.”

Adams said Pretoria Zoo had designed a “frog room” that ensured the frogs could not escape and were free from pathogens, especially the chytrid fungus and the Rana virus, which have had a devastating influence on frog numbers globally.

The Pickersgill’s reed frog is the only amphibian housed in this room. The frogs’ enclosures include a rain chamber, and the frogs are only given reverse osmosis water to ensure their survival.

According to Adams, one of the female frogs is gravid and tadpoles are expected soon.

For more information visit www.facebook/PickersgillsReedFrog. - Pretoria News