Scientists have had precious few opportunities to observe the “giant” Krokosua squeaker frog (Arthroleptis krokosua) since it was first discovered in Ghana in 2002.
That initial glimpse was fleeting: Only a single adult frog was found inside the heavily degraded Sui River Forest Reserve. After that, no one saw another of these squeakers for seven years.
In 2009 researchers got lucky. They observed 14 smaller juvenile frogs, again within the reserve—an ecosystem threatened by legal and illegal logging, along with agriculture and illegal mineral mining. The area is also overrun by an invasive plant known as devil weed, or Acheampong weed (Chromolaena odorata), which chokes out the native plants that the frogs need for shelter.
Conservationists had to wait another four years for the next sighting. That occurred in 2013 when a single 43-millimeter-long male—probably one of the juveniles observed in 2009—was finally spotted in a completely different part of the reserve by a team from Save the Frogs! Ghana.
Then, again, the species disappeared from sight.
The researchers kept looking, though. This month they finally hit the literal mother lode. After nearly two years without a single frog in sight, they have come across not one, not two, but 15 new frogs, including three gravid (egg-carrying) females. The frogs were found about 300 meters from the previous location in an area leased to two logging companies.
“This is the first most important step in saving the frog from extinction, as we now know where to focus our efforts in protecting the frog,” Save the Frogs! Ghana co-founder and executive director Gilbert Adum said in a prepared statement. They have now called on Ghana’s Forestry Commission to establish the area as an official sanctuary, which would protect not just the squeaker frog but three other endangered frogs that also live in the area.
Save the Frogs! has spent the past two years removing about five hectares of devil weed and replanting native trees but the habitat remains highly degraded. “Given the ever-quickening pace at which the habitat of the giant squeaker frog is being destroyed, we are losing every hope to ever succeed in getting rid of the invasive devil weed completely,” Adum tells me. “The weed is sun-loving and it is taking advantage of the prevailing wide canopy gaps in the logged habitat to establish itself quickly. But at least within the frogs' breeding habitats we will identify all the hotspots of the weed and do all we can to control it.”
In addition to devil weed, agriculture and illegal logging have also reduced the available frog habitat in the area. On top of that, at least 50 deep-mining pits in the region need to be refilled or covered up in some way. The organization’s associate executive director, Sandra Owusu-Gyamfi, calls the pits “potential death traps.” A frog could never escape or survive in them.
The organization will now monitor this population, the frogs’ breeding behavior and the soon-to-be-hatched froglets to build scientific knowledge of the species and help to ensure its continued survival.
Photo courtesy of Save the Frogs! Ghana