The fight to save region’s animals from extinction

Tooky the frog lives at the Tumut Visitor Information Centre.
Tooky the frog lives at the Tumut Visitor Information Centre.

A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report has shown that 58 per cent of animals worldwide have gone extinct since 1970. We are on track to lose two thirds by 2020.

One critically endangered local critter is the corroboree frog, which can only be found in select patches of the alpine regions of Southern NSW and the ACT.

This quirky little Australian native has a bold pattern of bright yellow and jet black, and is only the size of a thumb.

Michael McFadden is the Supervisor of Reptiles and Amphibians at Taronga Zoo. He said the animals he studies are going extinct at an alarming rate, with several species in the Tumut region sitting on the critically endangered list.

“It’s terrible. It’s worldwide, we’re seeing massive amphibian loss. In Australia we’ve lost about six species and we’ve got another six species that are on the brink. In Central America we’ve lost around 150 species in the past 50 years,” he said.

Corroboree frogs are one of Australia’s most critically endangered animals, and also one of our most unique.

They are the only discovered vertebrae in the world that is capable of producing poison internally (as opposed to through their food like other animals).

It is estimated that there are only a few hundred corroboree frogs left – and eight of those can be found at the Tumut Visitor Information Centre.

The frogs are part of a Taronga Zoo breeding program, which aims to boost wild populations while still keeping captive breeders in case efforts to save the species fail.

As well as being vital to the survival of their species, the Information Centre frogs are a hit with visitors.

“[People] do come to see the little frogs, and people come in and want to know about what animals are in the area,” said employee Lisa Freebody.

Mr McFadden said one of the primary purposes of the exhibit are to give locals the chance to learn about their amphibian neighbours.

“The Tumut enclosure is involved in community engagement,” he said. “Most people in the Kosciuszko area don’t get to see a corroboree frog. They might not have the opportunity to travel to [zoos in] Sydney or Melbourne, and the frogs live in a really remote area – so at least in Tumut in the Visitor Centre people have an opportunity to see the frogs up close.”

The primary cause of the corroboree frogs declining numbers is an introduced fungus called chytrid, which destroys their skin.

However, Mr McFadden said there are still many things people can do to encourage native amphibians to thrive.

“Frogs are impacted by land use around waterways. So doing things like assisting the natural riparian vegetation, preventing erosion, and removing willow trees can have a big impact on those species,” he said.

Other local animal favourites are the mountain pygmy possum, a tiny marsupial that can fit in the palm of a hand, and the booroolong frog.

But they, like many animals around the world, are in real danger of extinction.

The WWF Report said that humans need to be aware of the extreme impact we are having on the planet.

“Human activities are pushing our planet into uncharted territory. In fact, there’s strong evidence that we’ve entered a new geological epoch shaped by human actions [rather than natural forces]: “the Anthropocene”. The planet’s inhabitants – homo sapiens included – face an uncertain future,” it said.

“The loss of biodiversity is just one of the warning signs of a planet in peril. The Ecological Footprint – which measures our use of goods and services generated by nature – indicates that we’re consuming as if we had 1.6 Earths at our disposal.”

The biggest causes of extinction worldwide are habitat loss and degradation, species overexploitation (such as overfishing), pollution, invasive species and disease, and climate change.