Ensuring Species Survival
What’s a great word? Assurance. It’s a comforting word, isn’t it? A word full of confidence and promise. We could all probably use a little more assurance in our lives. In the conservation world, assurance becomes something even more important. It is a promise to endangered species that we will act to ensure their survival, as well as the survival of their native habitats. This is often accomplished through assurance populations.
If you’ve been following Zoo Atlanta’s blog or our newsletters for a while, you may have heard this term before. But what does “assurance population” really mean? In short, assurance populations are groups of critically endangered or even extinct populations of a wild animal or plant species that are kept under human care until the species can safely be reintroduced to its native habitat. You’ll see assurance populations cared for in accredited zoos and aquariums, at botanical gardens, in conservation field stations, and more. These populations are carefully managed, often including breeding, in order to ensure that we can reintroduce a diverse and healthy population when the time comes.
Zoo Atlanta’s best-known assurance population is our group of Panamanian golden frogs. These tiny amphibians are considered extinct in the wild due to the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (or Bd, for short). Bd is believed to be responsible for the extreme decline of over 500 amphibian species, including the extinction of 90 of those species. Zoo Atlanta’s Director of Research, Dr. Joe Mendelson, has referred to Bd as, “the most destructive pathogen that biodiversity has ever known.”
Researchers are working hard to find ways to effectively combat Bd. While they do that, the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Panama, Zoo Atlanta, and other AZA-accredited facilities in the U.S. are maintaining assurance populations of Panamanian golden frogs and other amphibians. Once the fungus is eradicated, we will be able to reintroduce these amazing animals back into their native ranges.
You can help support this species and can even save work yourself in several ways. First: Be a responsible pet owner. Do not purchase wild-caught amphibians as pets, and never release a pet amphibian into the wild. This helps protect wild numbers, as well as prevents the spread of disease. Second: Consider switching to shade-grown coffee, which uses much more sustainable growing practices. This will help protect wild amphibian habitats in central America. Third: Help keep your local bodies of water clear of pesticide runoff, trash, and other pollutants by using green gardening and farming practices and by joining community clean-up days. This will help protect our own native species and habitats. And finally: Consider getting your family or friends together to join FrogWatch. This is a Citizen Science initiative that trains volunteers to report on the calls of local frogs and toads. You can do this right from your own backyard! You can learn more and get involved here: https://www.aza.org/frogwatch. By taking these easy actions, you can be a big hero for some of our smallest species!