A tiny creature that has enough poison drenched on its skin to kill over 10 people: what’s it doing sitting calmly in the palm of my hand?
We’re trampling through sticky mud in the heart of the Chocó Rainforest in westernmost Colombia, on the hunt.
Suddenly, the Chocó lives up to it’s reputation as being one wettest places on Earth and within minutes I’m drenched. I desperately try to keep my camera dry, but at the ready to capture footage of on of the world’s deadliest creatures – the Golden Poison Frog.
We’ve been in the Rana Terribilis Reserve for less than an hour before ranger Venancio is clambering through the thick vegetation in search of the frog. “Hear that noise?”, asks Luis Gabriel, “It sounds like a cricket, but that’s the frogs’ song. Don Venancio has become an expert at tracking it down by its vocalization.”
Venancio Flórez López and Luis Gabriel Mosquera work for Fundación ProAves, the leading conservation organisation in Colombia. These are the men responsible for protecting this incredible species – a tiny two inch frog on the edge of extinction.
Luis Gabriel was not wrong: within minutes Venancio is back on the trail with cupped hands; as he slowly opens them a bright orange frog leaps onto the forest floor. Instinctively, I take a step back.
With gloved hands, Luis Gabriel carefully picks up the tiny, vibrant creature and holds him between his thumb and index finger. “So this is the famous, poisonous dart frog”, he tells me.
Today, it is classified as the most poisonous vertebrate in the world because of the amount of poison it has on its skin compared with its size. Its colours are vivid, which in nature is a warning sign to tell the other animals that it is a poisonous species.
Luis Gabriel explains that the species has long been recognised by indigenous cultures for its lethal poison and is strongly embedded within cultural traditions. The Chocó Emberá Indians use the frog’s poison in their darts to hunt food; by gently brushing the tips of the darts on the frogs back, without harming it, the weapon can keep their deadly effect for over two years.
The idea now is to investigate the species, try to repopulate it and teach the community about it. So this is our frog; the emblem of the nature reserve…
“Would you like to hold him,” asks Luis Gabriel, with a grin. I don’t have to think twice, without doubt I do. Having one of the world’s deadliest creatures in the palm of my hand is not an opportunity I can miss…wearing gloves, of course.
Holding the frog – so what’s it like?
I bring the frog up to me eye-level as he sits calmly in the center of my hand; he’s motionless, apart from the rapid movement of his small air sacs. I stare at him, trying to comprehend that this tiny creature could kill me. I thought it would feel like holding a hand grenade: I expect my heart to start racing, to feel a rush of adrenaline, some kind of terror.
But as I look at his eyes – huge unblinking pits of blackness, sitting in the stark contrast against his orange skin – all I feel is great sadness. I’m hit by a wave of child-like anger: I don’t want this little guy to be the last of his kind in the wild. But if we don’t act, this is his fate.
ProAves needs support so that they can escalate their conservation and community work within the region: saving the incredible Golden Poison Frog from the edge of extinction.
- Discover what it’s like to be responsible for protecting the Golden Poison Frog, by reading an interview with Venancio Flórez López
- Learn more about the threats to the Golden Poison Frog and how ProAves is working to defend it
- Find out what it is like to visit the Chocó Rainforest in Colombia