How did it all started
Between May 8th and August 8th 2006, I went on some unforgettable expeditions in Peru with Jason L. Brown, Evan Twomey, Justin Yeager and Bryan Richardson. They are graduate students and work on several projects to collect more knowledge about poison frog behaviour, distribution, chytrid, and evolution. In Iquitos I came in contact with Mark Pepper. He is leading a poison frog conservation project with Manuel Sanchez. They are able to collect a limited number of wild caught frogs, under permission of the Peruvian government. Their intention is to breed many species in their facility in Iquitos, to fulfil the worldwide desire for rare species. In this way, they can offer a legal alternative to discourage the smuggling in these species. All bred frogs are sent to their facility in Canada, where the frogs undergo quarantine before they are sold or exported. The customer always receives well acclimated specimens which are used to a terrarium environment. Also, other species, from countries outside Peru, are bred in Canada, such as Dendrobates tinctorius, D. auratus, D. azureus, Mantella pulchra, M. aurantiaca, M. laevigata, and M. betsileo. The revenue of these species is invested in a good cause. With the selling of frogs and ecotourism as financial source, forest land is bought for protection, and expeditions are made to remote areas to document many unknown frogs. Forest which has been bought by this project will be protected by local people, who get a salary for their work. In this way, hundreds of hectares which provide habitat for fragile populations are well protected areas now. The local people protect the forest against habitat destruction. At this moment are have been bought (in Hectares):15 along the Huallaga, 25 around Iquitos, almost 200 Yurimaguas lowlands. Next investments will be mostly along the Huallaga.
Peru is big, and contains a large number of undiscovered amphibian species. However, most of these species are restricted to small geographic areas. Every frog species has natural habitat preference and are highly suited for specific reproductive resources. For example, many species use plants, which provide water-holding bracts for tadpoles, like; Heliconia, Bromelia, Vriesea, Guzmania and Xanthosoma. These preferences are very clear in Dendrobates imitator, D. variabilis, D. lamas,i and D. mysteriosus. These preferences create diversity not only between species but among different populations of the same species. Also, climatologic gradients, which are mostly created along the elevation where a species lives, are strongly a limiting factor for their distribution. This is clearly seen in Epipedobates silverstonei and E. bassleri. Limited mobility make a species strongly attached to their habitat, so when a piece of forest is cut down….. and smugglers take ‘only’ 200 specimens away….. a population can decline very fast. Combined with the chytrid fungus, many species are at substantial risk of population declines.
Two important points
1) ILLEGAL dealing in animals must be ignored by the buyers. This is the best way to destroy the smuggling business. With legal export of poison arrow frogs (for example by the INIBICO-project or the project of Mark Pepper and Manuel Sanchez), many new species will be offered to hobbyists. Smuggling is really a growing problem; we shouldn’t let it destroy everything! Not only natural populations will be damaged, but these conservation projects will be undermined. Hobbyists who continue buying illegal specimens are working against themselves. Now, Dendrobates mysteriousus, vanzollini and lamasi are in the hobby due to illegal animals, and the potential for legal sale of these species is now greatly compromised. Illegal export destroys more than most people think! Legal exporters also don’t want to get their hands dirty by exporting species which are already illegal, effectively ‘white-washing’ illegal specimens.
2) Habitat destruction must be taken care of, especially by giving local people financial alternative sources, so that they don’t need to destroy forest, and by buying lots of forest, taking care that locals will protect their property. Spreading the knowledge to these people is very important, so that they know the relation between the type of habitat and the frogs. Most farmers don’t even know the relation between a tadpole and a frog.