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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Fort Worth Zoo Successfully Breeds A Threatened Toad Species For The First Time: Puerto Rican Crested Toads Heading Home

By Chris Vaughn

December 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All rights reserved. 

Another day of breeding, another 1,500 offspring.

A tadpole explosion shortly before Thanksgiving at the Fort Worth Zoo may boost the world's population of Puerto Rican crested toads. Fewer than 500 are estimated to exist in the wild.

Today, the quarter-inch tadpoles are headed to San Juan, where they will join 8,000 other zoo-bred tadpoles.

"Puerto Rico is the only place in the world where this animal exists," said Diane Barber, curator of cold-blooded animals at the Fort Worth Zoo. "It is a unique species. Plus, you're not just trying to save the toad. You're trying to save the habitat."

The Fort Worth Zoo, which has a nationally acclaimed collection of snakes, frogs and lizards, has exhibited crested toads for 13 years. It participates in the toad survival plan with the Vancouver aquarium and zoos in Toronto, Detroit, St. Louis and Sedgwick County, Kan.

Listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the crested toad is confined to a small area and one breeding site in southwestern Puerto Rico.

Virtually unknown in their native land, the toads are overshadowed by the coqui frog, which many consider the symbol of Puerto Rico, and the ever-present and much hardier marine toad, which was introduced to the island in the 1920s.

"The people of Puerto Rico don't really know what a crested toad looks like," Barber said.

Introducing the tadpoles to Puerto Rico has not exactly been an overwhelming success. Thousands shipped during the last decade have been killed by dragonflies, birds or crabs or died because of drought or urban sprawl. But each time, the zoo experts learn something.

"They're little critters -- most of them are not going to survive," said Karen Graham, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Sedgwick County Zoo. "We're trying to allow for some natural selection."

The zoos built artificial ponds, far from the natural population and closely monitored by Puerto Rican wildlife officials, that they hope will improve survival rates and prevent extinction by a single catastrophe.

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