Creating conservation hope for a rare & deadly species

How to manage a conservation project for a the lethal but endangered Golden Poison Frog

Q&A interview: Luis Gabriel Mosquera

  • Job title:Programme manager
  • Organisation: Fundación ProAves
  • Location: Timbiquí, western Colombia
  • Reserve name: Rana Terribilis
  • Species at risk: The Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis)
  • Classified: Endangered

When did you start protecting of the Golden Poison Frog?

Work in the Rana Terribilis Reserve started a bit more than two years ago. It began with an expedition in search for the Phyllobates terribilis [Golden Poison] frog, thanks to collaboration with Venancio [now the reserve ranger] who kindly accompanied the young man who was conducting the investigation. We identified the points where the frog could be found and we saw that it was essential to begin conservation work.

The incredible Golden Poison Frog, classified as Endangered, was completely unprotected before ProAves stepped in with their conservation project

Why was the frog’s conservation urgent?

We discovered that this frog was in danger of extinction. It was also very scarce in the area because it had experienced certain environmental changes. It is a frog, like the majority of amphibians, that is sensitive to environmental changes. In its original habitat, deforestation has caused environmental alternations. This has forced them to migrate to areas that have been interfered with less. I think this is the principal reason why this frog is having problems.

What makes the Golden Poison Frog an incredible species?

It is classified as the most poisonous vertebrates in the world because of the amount of poison it has on its skin compared with its size. This amphibian measures approximately 54-55mm and has very characteristic colouring. Its colours are vivid, which in nature is a warning sign to tell the other animals that it is quite a poisonous species.

In past times, it was used by the indigenous people in the area. We are talking about Chocó Emberā Indians from the Pacific Coastal region of Chocó del Cauca, which is where the frog is found. These frogs were used for hunting. They would find a dart, rub it on the frog’s back and use a blow pipe (which were two and a half metre tubes) to give them more force and speed to hunt monkeys, sloths, and other mammal species.

The idea now is to investigate the species, try to repopulate it and teach the community about it.

Women wash clothes in the Timbiqui River, opposite the Rana Terribilis Reserve. The rivers in the region are being polluted by toxic mercury from illegal gold mining

When did you create the Rana Terribilis Reserve?

The reserve was founded approximately a year ago thanks to the purchase of a piece of land, under the legal laws of our country, by Fundación ProAves. Since, work has been done to build-up communications with local people to raise awareness. It has been a slow process since the area presents certain public order complications. Although it has been little slow, it’s been effective.

[The military, at the time of the interview in April 2013, were monitoring the movement of people as an attempt to increase security within the region that, over the years, has been plagued by armed-conflict.]

Thanks to Venencio and another person who we contracted to do coordinating work, they have been able to approach local entities within the area, such as councils and schools, to spread environmental awareness and increase support for the project.

What are the threats to the Chocó Rainforest?

Illegal gold mining and coca cultivation is still very active in the area. Deforestation, for these reasons and others, is the principal problem, like in other parts of the Colombia. There was also a period where the forest in this region was hit by heavy legal deforestation, so trees were cut down over a long period of time and the forest is only now in recovery.

Another problem that we find in the reserve is the presence of hunters; people are guilty of killing many species that exist here and that are now in danger of extinction…vulnerable or in critical danger. The monkey has been hit hard; despite the fact that the forest contains certain characteristics that attract primates, it isn’t easy to find them and even less so here, near to the municipality’s capital.

How are you tackling illegal hunting?

The project is relatively new and right now we’re rainsing awareness within the communities, mainly through environmental education in two secondary school. The idea for the future is to form groups of young people that are interested in conserving the area. In addition, we give workshops within the community so that they have some knowledge about what we have been doing and what we want to conserve. So they understand why the wildlife is important.

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