Have we lost the Podocarpus harlequin frog for good? by Berglind Karlsdottir

I’m standing at 3000 meters above sea level in gale force winds and rain, and my mood is the lowest it’s been for the whole expedition. That says a lot since we’ve already overcome many challenges to get here in the first place.

We got delayed by a day or so because we were waiting for the collection permits to get signed off. We had poor weather the whole time – windy and dry. Not great for finding frogs as they like things nice and humid.

Then, our local field partner, Freddy, got hypothermia after searching the windy mountaintop of Podocarpus de Madrigal for hours. This meant that we had to delay the hike to Yacuri National Park for another day and lost a vital member of the team.

Finally, our guide called and said we wouldn’t be able to complete the hike as the weather conditions were dangerous. The whole project seemed at stake, but in the end we decided to drive to Amaluza where we would meet our guide, Rusval, and see what happened.

After five hours on the road, the clouds over our heads veered out of the way and the glorious sun reached us through the car windows. We met up with Rusval who was now happy to proceed with the hike.

The following day we made our way up the steep mountain slopes of Yacuri, stopping often to catch our breath in the thin air. When we finally made it to the little hut built by a small union of guides, I decided to cook for Rusval. I got all the newly purchased hobs and canned foods out, ready to use.

Then, I encountered the biggest issue of the expedition yet. When we had said goodbye to the only smoker on the team, Freddy, at the bottom of the mountain, we had also said goodbye to the team lighter. I asked Rusval if he had “fuego”, thinking that an experienced hiker who comes here regularly must carry the essentials. He looked sceptically at me but turned to search his bag, pulling out a box of matches with a big smile on his face.

I opened the box. Three matches.

So here we are. After all the work we’ve put into being right between the lakes in Yacuri National Park just for one reason: to find the last Podocarpus harlequin frogs!

We’ve already spent one day wandering along the landscape atop the windy mountain ridges, looking out for the perfect streams, and turning over every rock, but with no luck. It feels that the whole journey has been for nothing. Perhaps the last individuals of this species have slipped quietly out of existence, without anybody knowing.

It is estimated that over 150 species of frogs and salamanders have already gone extinct due to loss of habitat, climate change and diseases. I’m feeling depressed about the disappearing of all these species, and possibly the Podocarpus harlequin frog too. I eat a snickers to cheer me up and keep me going for our final field day in Yacuri, while my team mate Phil has already disappeared out of sight, jumping around the rocks as if he were a frog himself.

Then he comes back, but he’s not rushing or looking around anymore. He’s looking straight at me with his hand behind his back. “Guess what I found” he says.

I can’t believe it! He shows me a beautiful male Podocarpus harlequin frog – black, with yellow patches on his sides. I jump up and down and embrace Phil. We made it! And the Podocarpus harlequin frog has made it too.

It’s the fourth discovered individual of the species since 1994. Before that, it was believed to have gone extinct across it’s wide distribution. It was last recorded in the same place we had just found it.

We took some photos and put him back under his rock. We watched him for a bit to see if he was alright. He first disappeared completely, but then stuck his head back out to check on us for a bit. He was an incredibly charismatic frog and I cared for him so much now that I had finally met him.

This was a moment where the impact of the amphibian crisis struck me on a personal level that it hasn’t before, and I hoped that the fate of these amazing frogs will turn so that many people after me can have the same experience. I didn’t fully understand the significance of losing species to extinction until seeing an isolated individual in a vast landscape which used to be home to hundreds of these animals within our own lifetime.

For the Podocarpus Harlequin frogs there is still time, and it’s up to us to ensure that it has a future on this planet.

About the Entry

Berglind Karlsdottir

Berglind first fell in love with the wonderful world of amphibians as a volunteer in the Ecuadorean rainforests eight years ago. Since then, she has travelled the world and achieved two degrees in conservation. Now, she has returned to Ecuador with a desire to share her wonder for these beautiful, yet unknown little frogs, with the rest of the world.

  • Site name | Where’s that frog at?
  • Site URL | https://atelopusteam.wixsite.com/wheresthatfrogat
  • Twitter | @Junglebergs
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  • Why should someone visit your site? Follow us on a challenging journey through the Ecuadorean highlands. From our arrival at Guayaquil to our last sunset at Yacuri National Park, you will be included in our biggest failures and our absolute highlights. Most importantly though, we are here to discover whether the Podocarpus harlequin frog has survived the challenges of the modern world, or slipped quietly out of extinction.
  • Entry TitleHave we lost the Podocarpus harlequin frog for good?
  • Entry Number | 68

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