Apr 26
São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Species: São Tomé giant treefrog (Hyperolius thomensis)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Like many other Hyperolius species, the São Tomé giant treefrog breeds in standing water, but instead of using ponds, this remarkable amphibian lays its eggs in water-filled holes in trees.

As its name suggests, the beautifully coloured São Tomé giant treefrog is endemic to the island of São Tomé, 255 kilometres off the coast of Gabon, and is the largest member of the genus Hyperolius. This amphibian presents a classic example of ‘island gigantism’, whereby certain colonisers on islands tend to evolve to become larger than their mainland relatives. The upperparts of the São Tomé giant treefrog are a uniform green to blue-green colour, while the underside is much more brightly coloured with a marbled pattern of orange, white and black. Like other similar species, this treefrog has expanded toe pads and long legs which make it an adept climber.

There is little information available on the current threats to the São Tomé giant treefrog, but the loss of its forest habitat is thought to have had a severe impact on this species. Forest clearance began on São Tomé in the late 15th century to make way for the cultivation of sugar cane, and dramatically accelerated in the 1800s as a result of the production of coffee and cocoa. At one stage in the early 20th century, São Tomé was the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with around 42 percent of the island being devoted to its production. Deforestation rates have since slowed considerably, but the São Tomé giant treefrog is now restricted to the remnants of original primary forest on the island at elevations above 800 metres.

There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for the São Tomé giant treefrog. However, it may receive a certain level of protection as a result of its occurrence in Obo National Park.

See images of the São Tomé giant treefrog on ARKive

Find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive

Get involved in amphibian conservation and celebrate Save the Frogs Day today!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 25

A study has highlighted how two rare species of Chelonian are being threatened by hunting in India.

Two endemic species of the Western Ghats in India, the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle are being threatened with extinction due to poaching from indigenous and non-indigenous people. The Chelonians (turtles and tortoises) are the second most imperilled vertebrate group in the world and the two species highlighted in the study are no exception, with the Travancore tortoise classified as Vulnerable (VU) by the IUCN Red List and the Cochin forest cane turtle classified as Endangered (EN). Cochin cane turtles inhabit evergreen forest habitats, and unlike many other turtles, do not require the presence of water. This turtle species is so rare that no scientists saw the species for 70 years between 1912 and 1982. The Travancore tortoise is an omnivore, and can be found in evergreen, moist deciduous, and bamboo forests. This tortoise species is known to produce chorus calls at night, but the purpose of the call is unknown.

The Cochin forest cane turtle

A study published in The Asian Journal of Conservation Biology in 2013 investigated the illegal hunting and consumption of these rare animals, and found that many individuals are caught by non-local forestry workers, including those who work as part of fire management initiatives. However, there was also evidence that Chelonian experts were harvesting these rare species and some individuals even used trained dogs while hunting. The study indicated that 77 percent of the 104 people that were interviewed had consumed the Travancore tortoise and 22 percent had consumed the Cochin forest cane turtle. Chelonian meat was reportedly on sale in local establishments. Although it was found that the primary reason for harvesting wild individuals was for consumption, there was also some evidence that the two species were taken due to superstitions and for medicinal purposes.

The Travancore tortoise

The authors of the report, said, “Wildlife hunting in India is illegal and punishable via the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, which includes most of the susceptible species … However, hunting continues to be widespread in several regions of India even though it is disregarded or refuted”. The interviews indicated that all 104 respondents knew the illegality of consuming the two species, but problems with pressing charges and corruption are thought to mitigate the risks.

Cochin forest cane turtle on leaf litter

The authors of the study suggest that a limit on the number of dogs allowed at each indigenous settlement may help to reduce the risk of Chelonian hunting, and that the forest department must make a concerted effort to properly supervise forest staff and educate them about the plight of Chelonians. The authors also highlighted the past success of poster campaigns introduced by the Kerala State Forest Department, which aimed to challenge similar local use of animals. Threatened Chelonians, including the Indian star tortoise, were targeted by the previous campaign, and the authors suggest that this kind of promotion could be repeated for the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle.

Read the original article at Asian Journal of Conservation Biology – Hunting of endemic and threatened forest dwelling chelonians in the Western Ghats, India

Find out more about the Travancore tortoise at Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises – Indotestudo travancorica

View photos of the Travancore tortoise and the Cochin forest cane turtle on ARKive

Find out more about the wildlife of the Western Ghats on ARKive

Read more about this story at Mongabay – Chelonians for dinner: hunting threatens at-risk turtles and tortoises in India

Read more about turtle and freshwater tortoise conservation at the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group

Apr 25

As we approached the end of the rocky shore the Galapagos penguins were awaiting our arrival in their elegant black tailcoats. It had been four months since our last trip and we were all excited to be back with the birds. Some approached us cautiously, others jumped into the water, but most appeared quite indifferent to our presence.

Galapagos penguin 2

Galapagos penguin

We were all on board the Queen Mabel for this seven day field trip. The team consisted of staff from both the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park and, having departed from Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz the previous evening, we arrived into Caleta Iguana on the southern coast of Isabela on the morning of July 16.

Searching along the rugged lava coastline we came across nests with eggs, chicks and adults. This was a great sign and reflected the fact that the conditions this year had been good for the penguins, the water remaining cool enough to provide an abundance of food. This is not always the case. During El Niño years the water temperatures can rise by several degrees, resulting in the penguins primary food source, sardines, moving away from the area to find cooler waters.

Galapagos penguin  Alex Hearn

Galapagos penguin © Alex Hearn

In the afternoon we drove around to the Marielas Islands off the west coast of Isabela which is home to the largest population of Galapagos penguins. At this site we went about catching individuals so that we could record size and weight, attach ID tags, and collect samples for genetic analysis. We tagged a total of 78 penguins during the trip, 37 of which we had recorded in previous trips. Using this mark-recapture technique allows us to make population size estimates and track trends which are backed up by an annual census that is carried out every September.

Flightless comorant Gordon Chambers

Flightless comorants © Gordon Chambers

Flightless cormorants were next on the agenda. We visited three colonies around Punta Espinoza on Fernandina where we carried out similar catch and release sampling to the penguins. Forty-eight cormorants were caught in total, only 9 of which had not been previously recorded. This was a surprisingly low percentage of new individuals and could signify that the population size is decreasing, knowledge of which highlights the importance of carrying out such regular surveys.

Flightless Cormorants & Research

Gustavo Jiminez investigating a flightless cormorant nest © Pete Oxford

Our last job was to collect the data recorded by special meteorological loggers which help us to understand the micro-climates in some areas. Once this was complete, the team returned home but will be back in December to carry out the final survey of the year.

Since last year the Galapagos Conservation Trust has been running a Galapagos Penguin Appeal in order to be able to provide continued financial support to this essential monitoring project. For more information, please visit www.penguinappeal.org.

Apr 18

Earlier in 2014, sixteen tiny eggs were collected from two small pockets of mangrove forest on the western side of Isabela in the Galapagos Archipelago. These eggs, each the size of the nail on your little finger, belong to one of the rarest and most range restricted birds in the world: the mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates). This small, brown, unassuming bird is one of the famous Darwin’s finches and is today the rarest endemic bird in Galapagos. There are less than 100 mangrove finches alive today and last year there were only 14 breeding pairs. But why are they so critically endangered?

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Mangrove Finch © Michael Dvorak

Until recently, one of the main threats to mangrove finches was introduced rats. As generalist carnivores, rats would seek out and feed on the eggs and chicks of finches during the breeding season. Fortunately, rats are now being controlled at the breeding sites but now a much smaller invasive species poses an even larger threat.

Philornis downsi is a species of fly native to Trinidad and Brazil. It was introduced to Galapagos in the 1960s and has now spread to 14 islands within the Archipelago. The adults of this fly are harmless, feeding almost exclusively on nectar, but in their larval stage they are blood-sucking parasites. Female flies lay their eggs in the nests of small breeding land birds. Blind, naked and weak, the mangrove finch hatchlings are an easy target for the fly larvae which feed on their blood, very often resulting in the death of the chick. In 2013, 37% of chicks were killed this way – a massive hit to such a tiny population.

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

Philornis downsi larvae © A. Muth

So why are the scientists removing eggs? In an effort to ensure that the mangrove finch does not become the first bird to go extinct in Galapagos since before Darwin’s time, scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation and San Diego Zoo are, with support from the Galapagos National Park, taking action. During the mangrove finch breeding season, females lay up to five clutches of eggs but the first few rarely survive. By taking this first clutch, hatching and raising the chicks in captivity, then releasing them back into the wild when they are old enough, the project should result in more individuals being added to the population each year.

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

Chick being hand fed © Juan Carlos Avila

By raising the chicks in captivity, they will have avoided the nest-bound parasites and will have been given a ‘head-start’ in life. 2014 was the first time ‘head-starting’ has been trialled on mangrove finches and it is proving a great success. The sixteen eggs have hatched and the mangrove finch chicks are being released back into the mangroves right now. The future of the mangrove finch is starting to look a little brighter.

2. Remaining mangrove finch habitat 2 - (c)Francesca Cunninghame

Remaining mangrove finch habitat © Francesca Cunninghame

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with progress, please visit www.mangrovefinchappeal.org

Apr 17

Located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the volcanic Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory of evolution and a template for conservation for the rest of the world. Consisting of 14 large islands and 120 smaller islets and rocks, and surrounded by the 53,000 square miles of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (a World Heritage Site in its own right), this isolated environment is home to many unique species which vary from island to island. Charles Darwin’s appreciation of this distinctive quality has given Galapagos a special place in history and the development of modern science.

Galapagos Islands Map

Galapagos Islands map

Since Darwin’s time, travellers and settlers have disturbed the Islands’ ecological balance. In some cases, natural habitats and endemic species have been decimated and invasive plants and animals have become established, yet Galapagos remains one of the best-conserved tropical oceanic archipelagos in the world.

1. Bay with Pinacle Rock

Bay with Pinacle Rock, Galapagos © Phyl King

The Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT) is the only UK charity to work exclusively towards a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands. Supporting projects in the fields of science, education and culture since 1995, we have been working in programme areas including habitat restoration, invasive species management, sustainable development and education both locally in Galapagos and internationally.

1. Giant Tortoises

Galapagos giant tortoises © Alex Hearn

In the UK, we raise awareness of conservation matters in Galapagos through our network of committed supporters and the media. This year we are set to launch Discovering Galapagos - a brand new bilingual educational resource for use in the UK and Ecuador through which school children, our future conservation ambassadors, will use Galapagos as a template to learn about global conservation issues.

1. Marine Iguana

Galapagos marine iguana © Vanessa Green

Over the next few weeks, we are excited to be sharing with you via our friends at ARKive some of the cutting-edge conservation projects that we are supporting right now in the Islands.

For more information:

GCT Email: gct@gct.org
Website: www.savegalapagos.org
Discovering Galapagos website: www.discoveringgalapagos.org.uk
GCT Blog: http://galapagosblog.org/
GCT Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Galapagos-Conservation-Trust/33337561833
GCT Twitter: @galapagossip

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