Frogs and toads are in deep trouble the world over.
A deadly Chytrid fungus has been decimating their numbers worldwide for a decade and continues unabated. Habitat loss and ignorance of their importance has likewise further diminished their populations.
Chile has an impressive 57 species and most are severely threatened. We met up with a young trio of amphibian experts from the University of Santiago who are working to protect them, Ismael, Fernanda and Marta. We call them the ‘frog squad’.
Over the millennia the isolation of many Andean valleys promoted endemism.
Amphibians require a rare combination of unpolluted water and tranquil pools in which to lay their eggs.
They are beset by many difficulties. The introduction of alien predators, such as the African Toad and fish for sport fishing, habitat loss from building of roads and ski resorts, but most of all the lack of unpolluted water. Water is a scarce resource. Global warming is altering the rate of water flow off the Andean glaciers and the huge mining industry can easily pollute local supplies.
Some amphibian species take several years for the eggs and tadpoles to mature into breeding adults.
Using only the stars to guide us through the dead of night we and the Frog Squad would search high Andean streams and pools in the hope of finding these elusive creatures amid the slippery stones and boulders. Occasionally we would be rewarded with the discovery of a beautiful individual frog.
The Sapo de Rulo (Rhinella arunco) is one of the more common, but still endemic, species of Chilean frogs, the juvenile of which is spotted red.
In the Farellones valley we found the endangered Sapo De Pecho Espinoso De La Parva, known only from this one site. The individual below has two rough pads on its belly, showing it to be a male.
Some days later we visited the Rio Los Cipreses National Reserve. The steep sided mountains plunge down to the Rio Cipreses which itself is a tributary of the mighty Rio Cachapoal.
Both these rivers are fed by glaciers high up in the Andes which are retreating at an alarming rate every year.
In a marsh close to the river Cachapoal we found the small Arriero frog. It is named because of its penetrating call which is similar to that made by a herdsman (“Arriero” in Spanish) when calling for his animals over the scrubby mountainsides.
The Arriero is a threatened species and is otherwise called the ‘four-eyed frog’ as it has two false eye patterns on its backside.