Thousands of Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles were sent from ZooTampa to Puerto Rico recently, with the goal of restoring the critically endangered amphibian on their native island. The Puerto Rican crested toad, the island’s only native toad species, once flourished on the island but until 1967 was thought to be extinct. ZooTampa is one of only a few zoos across the world that participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan with the goal of re-populating this species by breeding and sending tadpoles back to Puerto Rico.
The Zoo’s herpetology and veterinary teams oversaw the delicate reproduction process for the pairs of crested toads. From careful habitat temperature control that simulates the island’s rainy season to playing toad mating calls, several necessary steps were taken to ensure that toads’ success in releasing fertilized eggs.
“These tadpoles represent hope for this critically endangered species,” said Dan Costell, associate curator of herps and aquatics. “Many amphibian species, such as the Puerto Rican crested toad, are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, infectious diseases, and other factors. Bolstering the population of these toads in their natural environment is a real win for conservation and at the core of our mission at ZooTampa.”
ZooTampa’s herpetology team spent several hours counting and packing the tadpoles into protected shipping boxes for their journey. Shipping bags were used, doubled up, and filled with oxygen to keep the tadpoles healthy and safe on their journey to their homeland where biologists will release them into protected managed ponds.
The Puerto Rican crested toad is an essential part of the island ecosystem, eating insects that are pests to humans. Scientists estimate that fewer than 3,000 adult toads remain in the wild.