“Since we began breeding Puerto Rican Crested Toads in 2012, Nashville Zoo has produced 10,365 tadpoles that have been shipped to Puerto Rico for release,” said Dale McGinnity, ectotherm curator. “This project is the perfect example of how ex-situ (outside of the species range) conservation work at the Zoo can support in-situ (native habitat) conservation, and how zoos can directly impact species’ continued survival in the wild.”
Nashville Zoo, Toronto Zoo and San Antonio Zoo sent a total of 5,742 tadpoles for release at the Gabias’ Farm in Coamo, Puerto Rico on May 8. Of these 5,742 tadpoles, 4,492 were sent from Nashville Zoo. In addition to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Puerto Rican Wildlife Agencies, local school children participated in the release as part of the ongoing initiative to educate local citizens on Puerto Rican crested toad conservation.
Known for its distinctive snout and bony head crest, the Puerto Rican Crested Toad is critically endangered with only one remaining wild population in the Guanica National Forest in the southern part of the island. In an effort to save the species from extinction, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) created a Species Survival Plan (SSP) that focuses on research, habitat protection, citizen education and outreach, and a viable reintroduction program. Through the SSP, AZA institutions have sent 263,575 tadpoles bred at zoos and aquariums in North America to be reintroduced into the wild.
Nashville Zoo has been working to breed the Puerto Rican Crested Toad since acquiring the species in 2008, but was not successful until 2012 with the introduction of a hormone cocktail called Amphiplex. The Zoo had previously used the same hormone preparation, developed by Vance Trudeau, University Research Chair in Neuroendocrinology at the Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, to successfully breed hellbenders using artificial fertilization.
Adult Puerto Rican Crested Toads can be seen in the Unseen New World as part of the Amphibians in Crisis exhibits. The toads that are utilized for the release program are held in a bio-secure, off-exhibit facility so that there are no chances of transmitting exotic pathogens into their native habitat.