Building Conservation Partnerships with Zoos

By Barber, Diane | Endangered Species Update, January-March 2008 | Go to article overview

Building Conservation Partnerships with Zoos


Barber, Diane, Endangered Species Update


More than 143 million people visit Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited facilities every year, a number greater than the combined attendance at all professional sports events in this country. Recent studies show that after a visit to a zoo or aquarium, people often think about their role in environmental problems and begin to see themselves as part of the solution. These facts make zoos and aquariums capable of reaching millions of people who desire to connect with animals in a positive manner.

AZA institutions have been directly involved in developing and implementing hundreds of recovery programs for threatened and endangered species around the globe. The recovery program for the Puerto Rican crested toad (Peltophryne lemur) is an example of one such program, and it exemplifies how zoos and aquariums can directly contribute to amphibian conservation and become effective partners with local and regional agencies.

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The Puerto Rican crested toad, which is easily distinguished by its unique head crest, is the only toad native to Puerto Rico. Individuals spend most of their lives underground in moist caverns of karst limestone and are rarely seen throughout the hot, dry months of the year. Habitat loss and competition from introduced species, including the marine toad (Bufo marinus), are the major causes for the toad's decline and led to its listing as a threatened species in 1987 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2004, the Puerto Rican crested toad was also listed by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) as a critically endangered species. Although distinct northern and southern populations of crested toads existed as recently as 1992, the last remaining wild population is located in an ephemeral pool precariously close to the ocean. The site, located in the Guanica Commonweath Forest, doubles as a parking lot during the busy summer season.

The Puerto Rican Crested Toad Species Survival Plan (SSP), the first amphibian SSP created by the AZA, has been active for more than 25 years. Strong partnerships for the recovery of this species have been formed among 21 zoos and aquariums in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Puerto Rico; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Ecological Resources (DNER); the University of Puerto Rico; the Puerto Rican National Park Company at Juan Rivero Zoo; Iniciativa Herpetologica, Inc.; and Citizens of the Karst. Recovery efforts are directed through a Memorandum of Understanding among the Service, the DNER and the AZA, and are coordinated through the Puerto Rican Crested Toad Recovery Plan and the Population and Habitat Viability Analysis Working Group. Recovery group members and other biologists meet annually in Puerto Rico to share new information.

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