Finding Lost Frog Species in Haiti Offers Hope and Warning for Haiti

Conservation is rarely given a mention in Haiti: largely because it is assumed there is nothing left to save. This is not the entire truth. Haiti still boasts an impressive suite of species found nowhere else on earth. Last year during the Haiti Tripods In The Mud Initiative, iLCP photographer Claudio Contreras joined a team from Conservation International and Amphibian Specialist Group , led by iLCP Associate Dr. Robin Moore and Dr. Blair Hedges, from Pennsylvania State University, to save one of the last remaining forest refuges in Haiti.

From Conservation International:

As the people of Haiti mark a painful anniversary this week and slowly rebuild their earthquake-torn country, scientists from Conservation International (CI) and the Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) of IUCN report news they hope might become a source of pride and hope for the country’s environmental future: the surprising re-discovery of six species of globally unique frogs in the country’s severely degraded tropical forests, which had been lost to science for nearly two decades.

Inspired by Conservation International’s global search for “lost frogs”, the announcement follows an expedition to the remote mountains of southwest Haiti this past October, led by CI’s Amphibian Conservation Specialist Dr. Robin Moore in partnership with Dr. Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University. Their goal: to search for the long lost La Selle Grass frog (E. glanduliferoides) which had not been seen in more than 25 years, as well as assess the status of many of Haiti’s 48 other native species of amphibians, many of which depend on the country’s shrinking mountain regions — in the southwest, Massif de la Hotte in the southwest and and Massif de la Selle in the southeast.

While the missing frog continued to evade scientists, the team reported six other species of amphibian re-discoveries that had not been seen for nearly two decades, including: a whistling frog named after composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; a burrowing frog with huge jet-black eyes and vivid orange markings on its hind legs; an elusive ventriloqiual frog that has the ability to ‘throw’ its voice to confuse potential predators; and a speckled landfrog with extremely rare, sapphire-colored eyes.

“It was incredible”, said Moore. “We went in looking for one missing species and found a treasure trove of others. That, to me, represents a welcome dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti.”

With large-scale deforestation leaving the country less than two-percent of its original forest cover and degrading most of the fresh water ecosystems Haitians depend on, the cloud forests of the southwest mountains stand as two of the last remaining pockets of environmental health and natural wealth in Haiti. In fact, the Massif de la Hotte has been highlighted by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) as the third-highest site-level conservation priority in the world, with 15 endemic amphibian species found there and nowhere else.

“A common assumption about Haiti is that there is nothing left to save,” said Moore, who also documents his findings as a photographer with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). “That is not entirely true. There are biologically rich pockets intact, despite tremendous environmental pressures. Haiti now has the opportunity to design their reconstruction plans around these pockets, and grow them, so they can more effectively act as natural buffers to climate change and natural disasters.”

Check out interviews with iLCP photographers Claudio Contreras and Robin Moore on the discovery of these lost species here.