At around midnight tomorrow, Ian du Plessis, his colleagues and a veterinary back-up team will leave the Johannesburg Zoo and drive to KwaZulu-Natal carrying an unusual cargo - 200 tiny, precious frogs.
Their pioneering mission: to save the critically endangered Pickersgill’s reed frog from extinction.
Du Plessis, the curator of reptiles, fish, insects, amphibians and arachnids at the Johannesburg Zoo, is part of the groundbreaking flagship Pickersgill’s breeding programme, championed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Ezemvelo Wildlife and Johannesburg Zoo.
On Monday, 200 captive-bred offspring of this rare amphibian, which have been bred in specially designed laboratories at the zoo, will hop into their natural habitat in Mount Moreland, north of Durban, and Prospecton, in the south.
It’s the first frog release programme of its kind. “It’s a breakthrough for South Africa and for the conservation of this species,” says Du Plessis.
“There hasn’t been a release like this in South Africa and it’s absolutely phenomenal to know that, after all this hard work and dedication from everyone, we are able to release these frogs into the wild.”
Last September, 30 adult frogs were collected in Durban and taken to the breeding facility at the zoo. “One year later, we’ve bred around 300, of which we’re only releasing 200. They’re sexually matured and we have new insights into the natural life of this species.”
In June 2017, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa approved and gazetted a biodiversity management plan for the species.
“It’s really great to have these little frogs get some attention,” enthuses Jeanne Tarrant, manager of the threatened amphibian programme at the EWT.
“It marks the successful breeding of the species in captivity and we’re learning so much about the frogs’ biology. We know now that these frogs can survive for a lot longer than we initially thought.
“Our initial collection was done in 2012 and some of those individuals are still alive - which is long for these small frogs,” she says.
“We had thought they breed annually but we’re already onto the third generation in a year of captive breeding,” Tarrant says.
The Saturday Star