Special Delivery from Tampa to Puerto Rico May Save Toad Species from Extinction
The only toad species native to Puerto Rico is now critically endangered, but ZooTampa contributed to the survival of this important species by sending thousands of recently hatched tadpoles to help restore the population on their native island.
The Puerto Rican crested toad once flourished on the island but before 1967 the amphibian was thought to have become extinct, due to habitat loss from urban development, natural disasters, and competition from invasive species who prey on their young.
An essential part of the island ecosystem, eating insects that are pests to humans, scientists estimate that fewer than 3,000 adult toads remain in the wild.
Today, ZooTampa is one of only a few zoos across the world who participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan with the goal of re-populating this species by breeding and sending tadpoles back to Puerto Rico.
The Zoo’s herpetology and veterinary teams oversaw the delicate reproduction process for the pairs of crested toads: From careful habitat temperature control that stimulates the island’s rainy season, to playing the “Barry White version” of toad mating calls, several important steps were taken to ensure that the toads produced fertilized eggs.
“These tadpoles represent hope for this critically endangered species,” said Dan Costell, associate curator of herps and aquatics. “Bolstering the population of these toads in their natural environment is a real win for conservation and at the core of our mission at ZooTampa.”
The tadpoles were quickly counted and packed into protected shipping boxes filled with oxygen to keep the tadpoles healthy and safe on their journey to their homeland, where biologists will release them into protected managed ponds.
It was a race against the clock, as there’s only an 8-day window between when the fertilized eggs begin hatching into tadpoles and when they must be released by biologists on the island.
The efforts of all involved are now resulting in chirps of joy—from both toads and humans—on the Island of Enchantment.