This Monday will be an exciting day for amphibians – specifically the Northern leopard frog, which is endangered in British Columbia. On that day, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team will be heading out to a location in the Columbia Marshes (near Cranbrook, B.C.) to release tadpoles of these frogs back into the wild as part of conservation efforts to save this species from extinction.

These tadpoles will expand a wild population that was introduced last year to the site, with 2,000 tadpoles from the Aquarium’s breeding program. Although once found at many sites in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions, there are only three wild populations that currently exist: one in the Creston Valley; a second population that was reintroduced in the Upper Kootenay Floodplain, near Bummers Flats, in 2004; then a third population reintroduced last year at a site in the Columbia Marshes.

A close up of an adult Northern leopard frog. Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium.

A close up of an adult Northern leopard frog. Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium.

As with many amphibians, the Rocky Mountain Population of the Northern leopard frogs is yet another example of a species experiencing steep population declines during the past few decades. This is a concern because amphibians are key indicators of the health of the ecosystems in which they live, and the decline of one species can dramatically affect others.

In the 1970s, populations of Northern leopard frogs across western Canada declined sharply, by the millions, making them one of the most at-risk amphibian species, especially in British Columbia. Scientists are still working to determine the cause of these sharp declines in the Rocky Mountain population of the Northern leopard frogs. The Rocky Mountain population that occurs in B.C. is listed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and is on the provincial Red List.

Unlike the Rocky Mountain population, the Prairie Northern leopard frogs have reoccupied some of their former range on the Prairies, and these populations are now considered to be of special concern by COSEWIC. Northern leopard frogs in eastern Canada are classified as not being at risk.*

The Northern Leopard Frog Recovery Team, of which the Vancouver Aquarium is part, is committed to breeding these frogs to help build up depleting wild populations before they become extinct in B.C., while also strengthening an assurance population. The Recovery Team, with a number of collaborators and funders, implements conservation actions as outlined in the Northern Leopard Frog recovery strategy.

This year’s tadpole release would not have been made possible without the support of London Air. It’s difficult to move a fragile endangered species like the Northern leopard frogs, and we are indebted to London Air for their support and terrific logistics in getting our staff and frogs to the Columbia Marshes.

The Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium to hatch B.C. Northern leopard frog tadpoles as part of an assurance population, and this year is the second year that the organization has successfully produced these tadpoles. It is also part of a worldwide effort, along with other zoos and aquariums, to conserve this and other amphibian species under the Amphibian Ark (AArk) project.

Amphibians as a whole are facing the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. It’s concerning because of the vital role amphibians play as an indicator species, which is why the Aquarium is involved with other breeding programs for the Oregon spotted frogs (in partnership with the Oregon Spotted Frog Recovery Team), and the Panamanian golden frogs. Learn more about the state of frogs here.

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