Saving the deadly Golden Poison Frog in Colombia

The Golden Poison Frog is just two inches in size and carries a single milligram of poison: a small but lethal dose

In one of the wettest tropical forests in the world, in westernmost Colombia, lives a small but healthy population of Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis): an extraordinary creature that we’re on the edge of wiping out.

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A single frog could hold enough poison to kill 10 people. Their skin is drenched in alkaloid poison (batrachotoxins) that prevent nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction – leading to heart failure. Death comes within minutes.

The species has long been recognised by indigenous cultures for its lethal poison and is strongly embedded within cultural traditions. The Choco Emberá Indians use the frog’s toxin as poison in their darts used to hunt food; by gently brushing the tips of arrows and darts on the frogs back, without harming it, the weapon can keep their deadly effect for over two years.

Yet the frog’s poison is entirely for self-defence and humans pose a much greater threat to the species with a weapon that their poison cannot defend against – bulldozers. Habitat damage and destruction is the major threat to the species’ survival and is categorised as Endangered by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Dependent on primary forest, the Golden Poison Frog occurs patchily across less than 150 miles2 (250 km2) of rainforest on the narrow Pacific coastal plain of the Chocó in Colombia. It exists nowhere else on Earth.

In reaction to this threat, the Colombian conservation organisation Fundación ProAves gained international support from the World Land Trust, Conservation International, Rainforest Trust, and Global Wildlife Conservation, to create the Rana Terriblis Amphibian Reserve in early 2012. This marked the first time that this species had ever been protected.

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