LA Zoo, Aquarium of Pacific help release critically endangered frogs to native habitat

About 170 Southern mountain yellow-legged frogs, a critically endangered amphibian native to Southern California’s mountainous regions, were recently let loose in their wild habitat, officials announced Thursday, Sept. 7.

That species was once the most abundant frog in the region’s high-elevation bodies of water, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, but are now extinct in anywhere from 70% to 90% of their native habitat.

And the Southern mountain yellow-legged frogs that do remain lack genetic diversity — making it even more difficult for the creatures to sustain its own species.

There are many reasons for that decline, according to the state, including the introduction of non-native fishes, pesticides, drought and livestock grazing, among other environmental concerns.

But thanks to a partnership between the Los Angeles and Santa Ana zoos, Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific, and officials from the U.S. Geological Survey and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife — there’s hope for the frogs.

A majority of the 170 frogs were hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and later transported to the Aquarium of the Pacific, where they were raised from tadpoles to fully frown frogs. They were released back into their native habitat on Aug. 29 and 30

About 50 of those tadpoles were raised at the Santa Ana Zoo — while the remaining froglets were taken care of by the aquarium after being rescued from the Bobcat Fire, according to a Thursday news release.

That wildfire burned about 115,000 acres of land in Los Angeles County in 2020 and, according to the news release, threatened the cold-water streams where the frog lives — prompting government officials to rescue the tadpoles they could and place them with conservation partners, including Long Beach’s aquarium.

“Releases of endangered species are exciting moments, but what makes this release extra special is that these frogs are from a genetically under-represented population,” Brett Long, the aquarium’s director of mammals and birds, said in the release, “which can help to further increase the chances of this species’ survival.”

Both the aquarium and the LA Zoo, meanwhile, have plans to keep up their Southern mountain yellow-legged frog population rehabilitation efforts.

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The LA Zoo has had a wildlife breeding colony in place at its facilities since 2007, according to the release — and nearly 6,000 animals bred in that program, including the tadpoles, have been released back into the wild since.

And last year, about 188 frogs raised by the Long Beach aquarium — and another 25 from the Santa Ana Zoo — were also released back into the wild.

The ultimate goal, according to Amber Suto of the Santa Ana Zoo, is to help establish at least 20 stable populations — made up of 50 frogs each — in the wild to ensure the species can survive for at least another 100 years.

“This recent release was one more step towards making that happen,”  Suto said in the release. “They used to be one of the most common amphibians in our mountains, and we hope to see them thriving in their natural habitat again one day.”

Everyday people can do their part to help the Southern mountain yellow-legged frogs too, the release said, by staying on marked trails and paths, staying out of restricted areas, and following the seven “Leave No Trace” principles when visiting local mountains and other wild areas.

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