As it should be with spring rains starting to become a reality (admittedly especially for those of us in KwaZulu-Natal) this issue is dedicated to good old getting out there and finding frogs, or “frogging” as we in the business call it. There is something about heading out at night donning a headlamp and gumboots that really connects us to nature – and what better way then searching out our omnipresent amphibious friends. They really are everywhere – as I write this, the sound of Bush Squeakers pours through my study windows after a quick downpour – so it’s something that anyone, anywhere can do. This week I’ve been lucky enough to do some frogging in both Blue Swallow country (and yes I had beginners luck and had three of these incredibly rare birds fly right overhead) and down in the industrial surrounds of Durban South – with a total of 15 species either seen or heard between the two areas. Quite a contrast, but demonstrative of my point about how frogs can be found just about anywhere. On the subject, we have a nice exotic contribution about a frogging experience in Botswana from Kirsty Kyle.
Through our wetland rehabilitation work at EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme, we have been encouraging reports of sightings from our rehabilitation teams who spend most of their days out in the field. This is an aspect of the project that team members are really excited about, and since we have begun submitting these records to i-Spot, the number of observations have quite significantly increased. Really encouraging to see and Programme Field Officer,Cherise Acker-Cooper brings us up to speed on this aspect of the project.
On a more serious note, last week saw the wrap-up of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Sandton. While there have been many positive outcomes, such as an inclusion of all 8 pangolin species and the African Grey Parrot on Appendix 1, basically putting an end to international trade in these species (including their body parts), other decisions are less desirable, such as the rejection of the inclusion of lions from Appendix 1, essentially allowing the trade of lion bones, claws etc. to continue. This will see the continuation of harmful practices such as canned hunting and lion cub petting (EWT’s position statement), all driven largely by external forces, and benefitting only a few, and certainly not the species itself. In terms of amphibian trade, I was shocked to hear some of the statistics: globally over 37 million amphibians have been transported in the past decade for trade purposes, to and from the United States alone. We currently have little knowledge of the trade situation of South African frogs, but my concerns are that is on the increase, driven for example, by the internet and cruel videos going viral. That is all I will say on that for now.
So how do we differentiate? How do we get people to connect TO nature, without taking FROM nature? The line is a fine one, and we in conservation have to be very careful in our messaging about the value of, for example, educational experiences (such as dreaded lion cub feeding or petting) and how this might affect the thinking of the general public. The same may go for frogs, with the selfish mentality of owning and controlling nature resulting in some terrible outcomes for the animals involved. I argue that going out frogging is a good way to start appreciating animals in nature. As they should be.
Yours in frogging,
Who's Hot on the IUCN Red List?
This month we feature the handsome Kloof Frog, Natalobatrachus bonebergi, which is listed as Endangered. This species, is a habitat specialist occurring in forested streams in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It is threatened by habitat loss due to agriculture, marble delta mining and deforestation and most of its knowns sites are within Protected Areas, which still have intact habitat. Females lay distinct egg clumps above the water and these provide a relatively easy way to monitor this species. Using the monitoring protocol that TAP developed for Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife based on egg-clump counts, we now have data being collected at two sites in KwaZulu-Natal (Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve and Crowned Eagle Conservancy) and three reserves in the Eastern Cape (Dwesa-Cebe, Hluleka and Silaka Nature Reserves). We are very grateful to the volunteer groups that take part in monitoring the Kloof Frog at these various sites. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Honorary Rangers, Lesley and Mike Bentley, have been monitoring the Kloof Frog at Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve since December 2014. Following the protocol. From the data collected so far, we can see when the peak breeding season for the species is (December to March), but also that the 2014 – 2015 drought has had a severe impact on breeding behaviour in the last year.
A female Kloof Frog, Hluleka Nature Reserve, and examples of egg clumps (photos courtesy Brian Reeves, Mike and Lesley Bentley)
Working with WESSA’s Eco-Schools Programme, two local schools, Kloof Senior Primary and Thomas Moore College carry out the monitoring method on respective months at Crowned Eagle Conservancy in Gillitts, KZN. In October 2015 we conducted training with ten Eastern Cape parks rangers from three reserves on the same monitoring method and we receive a monthly summary of the data that they are collecting. Monitoring of species is important as it helps us understand trends in population dynamics, as well as helping to detect emerging threats, such as alien invasive plants, pollution or changes in habitat. These ‘citizen science’ contributions make an invaluable contribution to conservation, particularly that of amphibian conservation which has a limited number of researchers and professionals. Another great recent example of this is through the endevours of Nick Evans, who is on a Kloof Frog mission and has found three new sites for the Kloof Frog in KZN since September. Since most of South Africa’s frogs are Red Listed according to distributional criteria, we could see this species falling off the Endangered list at this rate, again demonstrating the value of such contributions to science.
Ezemvelo Honorary Officers at Vernon Crookes carrying out the monitoring for the Kloof Frog.
African Amphibian Conservation Research Group
Ecotourism and Frogs in South Africa
By Zoegne Du Preez, Masters Student, North-West University
Ecotourism is the fastest growing sector of the international travel industry, which is in turn one of the world’s largest and fastest growing enterprises. It is a phenomena that has become very popular over the last decade, especially in South Africa and can be defined as a visit to a fragile, unspoiled and protected area. The experience helps to educate tourists (travellers), it provides funds for nature and cultural conservation, it raises respect for the environment and cultures and lastly it directly benefits economic development of the local communities. Ecotourism in South Africa can be a powerful conservation tool, one that encourages people to maintain and protect the natural environment.
Traditionally amphibians have not generated much attention among eco-tourists, partly because they are easily overshadowed by other more charismatic taxa or habitat attractions, and partly because this possibility has been poorly investigated. This unique and under appreciated animal group has been under severe pressure since the industrial revolution, with almost a third of the nearly 7,500 known amphibian species listed as threatened by the IUCN. To minimize the existing amphibian extinction crisis, the global community must respond in an innovative and multidisciplinary approach to protect amphibians at an unprecedented scale. It is very important to protect frogs due to them being part of South Africa’s natural heritage and one way in which the protection of amphibians can be improved communities involved is by means of ecotourism.
However innovative methods to attract tourists to take part in amphibian ecotourism activities are needed, due to amphibians not being a top species that people are interested in. Fennell & Weaver (1997) did a survey study on the success of vacation farms and the different species interests that tourists have. Their findings were that birds are the most popular category of wildlife viewed, followed by mammals and plants. Their statistics showed that people don’t have much interest in viewing amphibian, reptile, insects or fish species.
Frogging is a well-known term within the frog conservation and research community where it describes the activity of searching for frogs in the wild. This study aims to determine the ecotourism potential of frogs in South Africa. By doing so, the project aims tointroduce the wonders and excitement of frogging to the South African community and thereby promote it as a new tourism activity in South Africa. In return, the data tourists will gather from their frogging expedition can be used by scientists and conservationists for research and management of species. Ultimately, tourism activities can contribute towards the conservation of frogs in South Africa by increasing awareness of these threatened animals.
1. Determine the current role that amphibians play in ecotourism.
2. Assess public opinion on amphibian ecotourism.
3. Case study: Determine the frog diversity and ecotourism potential within a National Park.
4. Develop a blueprint for the training of field guides.
This months Mega Fauna Corner Logo is dedicated to the Whale, in support of National Marine Week happening between 5-11 October.
Whale Time is a special time of year on the East Coast of South Africa when we are privileged to observe some of the whale species that frequent the KwaZulu-Natal coast. In particular, the humpback whales migrate close inshore along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal between their summer Antarctic feeding grounds and the coastal waters of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, Madagascar, the Mascarenes and the Western Indian Ocean Islands where they give birth to their calves. Previously decimated by whaling, protection measures have resulted in a strong recovery of these ocean giants which can be seen as early as May and through to December . The peaks of the northlwards and southward migrations are in July-August and October-November, repectively. The Wildlands Whale Time Project is supported by The blue Fund, a partnership between Grindrod Ltd and Wildlands. This project’s goal is to bring science, conservation, tourism and community together around this iconic species. It aims to contribute to updating scientific knowledge of humpback whale populations and to engage public in whale sightings and associated monitoring of the distribution, behaviour patterns and habitat use of the whales. The project includes the establishment of an online platform that will allow “citizen scientists” to upload photos of whales, to be identified by marine science experts. It provides a platform to develop a coastal community based “citizen science” movemnet that will bring benefits not only for conservation of the whales and their ocean environment, but also for coastal communities through training and economic opportunities.
The Wildlands Whale Time Project is supported by The blue Fund, a partnership between Grindrod Ltd and Wildlands. This project’s goal is to bring science, conservation, tourism and community together around this iconic species. It aims to contribute to updating scientific knowledge of humpback whale populations and to engage public in whale sightings and associated monitoring of the distribution, behaviour patterns and habitat use of the whales. The project includes the establishment of an online platform that will allow “citizen scientists” to upload photos of whales, to be identified by marine science experts. It provides a platform to develop a coastal community based “citizen science” movemnet that will bring benefits not only for conservation of the whales and their ocean environment, but also for coastal communities through training and economic opportunities.
The Whale Time project has four main elements:
1. Research - assess, monitor and communicate the recovery, conservation status and population dynamics of east coast humpback whales
2. Citizen Science - involve citizens in monitoring and research on whales, thus building public knowledge and creating powerful advocates for conservation of the ocean
3. Ecotourism - put the east coast whale migration on the map as an amazing conservation and tourism phenomenon - locally to globally
4. Community Guiding - provide an opportunity for coastal communities to appreciate the value of marine conservation through involving them in whale eco-tourism
The Whale Time Project aims to involve, engage and educate a wide range of people about whales and the marine environment, as well as to promote ethical and sustainable community-based tourism centred around this iconic species
Stormy Adventures in Botswana
By Kirsty Kyle - Frogging Enthusiast
A few seasons ago I was fortunate enough to experience the after effects of a summer thunderstorm in the middle of Botswana. Considering it is a place where Peter’s Platanna with their beautiful yellow bellies sprinkled with black spots frequent the rivers and the Western Olive Toad is more common than Guttural toads are for us in KwaZulu-Natal, I was already pretty content with life. However, to make matters even better, one afternoon our fishing on the Boteti River was disturbed by a proper old storm which left puddles in its wake that would set any good frog lover’s heart racing! Needless to say, as dusk stole over the beautiful sparkly clean bush, the night started to come alive with frog choruses and the peace was soon thoroughly disrupted by a procession of Kyles sneaking along in the direction of the most promising sounding puddle.
Rob Kyle sneaking up on something
The heavy clay soil resulted in lovely big pools in between the wide variety of thorn trees that frequent the area! One of my favourite sounds in the world has to be that of the Banded Rubber Frog’s call, it just always seems to be synonymous with good times and true to form we could hear them calling on this occasion. In my experience of them from Zululand they tend to be quite secretive little blighters who usually hide in a tree stump or call from under cover… thus we were pretty surprised to stumble upon them out in the wide open on the edge of the pond. And they were absolute monsters! I’ve never seen a South African Rubber Frog come close to these girls! Admittedly they were very dull in colouration, but they certainly made up for that by sheer size! We were off to a very good start.
Phrynomantis bifasciatus, aka Banded Rubber Frogs
Sneaking around in the bush is always a questionable business, never quite sure what you will startle or what will startle you!! We managed to disturb a sleeping francolin at the very top of a thorn tree, understandably it took exception to being woken up! But having all recovered from the resulting heart attack, we moved to the next pond where we heard Bullfrogs; this was so exciting! I automatically just thought they would be the giants so I was twitching with excitement as I homed in on the call, only to discover that they were in fact just fat little African bullfrogs! Still sweet, but a bit of a let-down I must admit! To make up for that though, and to my absolute delight we managed to unearth a few Kavango Pygmy toads which was very cool! By the end of our evening we had a fairly meagre total of eight frogs, one terrapin and a chameleon which was in the middle of shedding his skin. Not impressive by our KZN standards, but not too bad when you consider the ridiculously dry conditions these amphibians have to survive for 10 months of the year! All in all it was an awesome experience.
Photos taken by froggers in and around KwaZulu Natal
Amietophrynus garmani, aka Eastern Olive Toad, submitted by Hakeem Osman on Saturday 24th September in Hluhluwe.
Leptopelis xenodactylus, aka Long-toed Tree Frog, submitted by Nick Evans, found on Saturday the 24th September in the Midlands.
Natalobatrachus bonebergi, aka Kloof Frog (keeping its egg clump moist), submitted by David Knox-Whitehead, found on Monday 26thSeptember in Spring Side Hillcrest.
Afrixalus spinifrons, aka Natal Leaf-folding Frog (near threatened), submitted by Nick Evans, found on 26th September at the Tanglewood Nature Reserve.
Hyperolius marmoratus, aka Painted Reed Frog (on the windshield of their car), submitted by Peter Vos, found on the 21st of September at the Mtunzini Forest Lodge.
Hyperolius marmoratus, aka Painted Reed Frog (5 in one bed for the day), submitted by Shirley Sage, found on Thursday 22nd September.
We would like to invite frogging groups around South Africa to submit their photos from the field to us, which we will help submit to the Museum and i-Spot. This means your finds will contribute to the Frog Atlas Project in South Africa. For more information on the Frog Atlas Project Click Here.
We will feature 5 of our favourite images a month.
To send us your frogging pictures:
By Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Threatened Amphibian Programme Manager
This week I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Roselands Farm & Outdoor Adventure Centre, http://roselands.co.za/, outside of Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal. The farm is a working one (and I came away with a treat of beautiful, organic vegetables) as well as a Biodiversity Stewardship Site (for Blue Swallows, Oribi and Hilton Daises) and runs school camps for a variety of school groups that travel from throughout the Province. Activities are centered around environmental education, and range from walks and trails through the various natural intact areas on the farm, to bush camps to learning about farming operations. One of the reasons for my visit was to seek out the Endangered Mistbelt Frog, Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis, which shares its home with Blue Swallows elsewhere in southern KZN. The habitat certainly looks good for them, but our night survey was rather freezing which may have thwarted calling activity of this dainty little frog. Which only means I shall have to visit again for another look!
Anhydrophryne ngongoniensis, Misbelt Chiping Frog
Another reason for my visit was to talk to 56 kids from the Butterfly Project – these are grade 6 children from the local area, many of whom do not have parents in their households. They visit Roselands for a week and in addition to environmental education (on cranes, wetlands, grasslands and of course frogs!), they also work on life skills such as building self-esteem, personal growth, dealing with trauma, loss and abuse, developing values and a sense of self-respect as well as developing team work and leadership skills. I know from my short time at Roselands that it is a very special place, good for the soul. I am sure these children must come away from their busy week there with a new sense of self-worth and a passion for change within their communities….and full tummies, which is something crucial to helping learn! My frog pictures did result in many funny faces being pulled, but I hope to have installed some sense of appreciation for these animals that have many cultural superstitions associated with them. We certainly hope to work more extensively with Roselands going forward. And to find the Mistbelt Chirping Frog!
Nurturing Citizen Scientists
By Cherise Acker-Cooper, EWT Threatened Amphibian Programme Field Officer
Durban has an assortment of wetlands, from big to small, temporary to permanent, grassy to reedy. Many people pass these precious ecosystems without realising how important these natural water filters are to our survival. They clean our water and store valuable water resources as ground water but they are also a home for many creatures both great and small. Durban wetlands are a haven for 35 different frog species. These frogs often go undetected until the spring rains arrive bringing a chorus of croaks, whistles, squeaks and chirps, announcing their return from their long wintery slumber. Urbanites then tuck their heads under their pillows to endure the public frog courting process. Unfortunately, frogs do not know how to WHISPER sweet nothings to each other!
But these calls signal something far more important than the start of the mating season, it conveys to us that our wetlands are doing well. Frogs are sensitive to pollution on both land and in water. A decline in croaking calls should signal something alarming to us and the night time silence that you wish for should rather keep you up with worry. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP) works tirelessly to protect several precious Durban wetlands and through this conserve their froggy residents. Through the Department of Environmental Affairs and in partnership with eThekwini Municipality, TAP employs 65 people to clear alien invasive plants and rehabilitate four priority wetlands in the greater eThekwini municipal area, namely: Mt Moreland, Isipingo, Adams Mission and Widenham. These priority wetlands are home to the Critically Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog (Hyperolius pickersgilli) as well as in some cases the Endangered Kloof Frog (Natalobatrachus bonebergi). These flagship frogs are instrumental in wetland conservation. Through their protection TAP, is promoting water security, the conservation of other wetland residents and initiating positive social change within the surrounding communities. TAP realises that because our clearing teams are in field most days they have an opportunity to positively contribute to the scientific community through Citizen Science. To facilitate this process, TAP developed a field ecology handbook to assist teams with plant and animal identification. We also turned to social media through Wattsapp as a platform for our field staff to share their discoveries. In TAP’s most recent intervention, we have created iSpot accounts for all contributors to post their observations. Through these interventions we have seen a marked increase in our field staff contributions with a growth of 72% since the iSpot intervention. This is opening a whole new group of people who are able to contribute as Citizen Scientists and we are excited and proud to be a part of this!
Figure 1: Schismaderma carens, aka Red Toad submitted by Sizwe Shozi
Figure 2: Afrixalus fornasinii, aka Greater Leaf Folding Frog sent in by Joseph Kweyama
Maybe next time you hear the call of the frog, jump out of bed, grab your torch, put on your gumboots, take a photo and join all types of Durbanites in conserving our precious frogs. You may even find the Critically Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog!