Rediscovery of Borneo rainbow toad

With all the news on dwindling amphibian numbers, to which I will pay more attention soon in my blog,  we could use some positive news as well. A nice example was a press release in July last year on the rediscovery  of the Borneo rainbow toad (or Sambas stream toad, Ansonia latidisca). The New York times interviewed the leading scientist of the team, Dr. Das (he discovered a tiny frog in 2010 as well).

The team of scientists have rediscovered this marvelous looking creature high in the ridges of the Gunung Penrissen range of Western Sarawak, between Sarawak State in Malaysia and Kalimantan Barat Province in Indonesia. Previously it was only known from one black and white drawing from more than 80 years ago. And that type of drawing clearly doesn’t do justice to the colorful appearance of this toad as can be seen on photographs. The New York Times reporter describes the toad as resembling “an Abstract Expressionist canvas splattered in bright green, purple and red”. Especially this feature of the toad, being so brightly and beautifully colored, could make it in very high demand with illegal collectors and because of this the exact location of the find has not been made public.

Borneo Rainbow Toad

© Indraneil Das, photograph from original press release of Conservation International ('Lost' species stages amazing reappearance act after eluding scientists for 87 years (July 14th 2011))

When reading the headline of the article it reminded me of the Conservation International’s Search for Lost Frogs and according to the lead scientist, Dr. Das, a herpetologist at the University of Malaysia at Sarawak, they drew inspiration from this initiative for their own search. The rediscovered toad is actually number ten on the list of most wanted ‘lost’ species that was released as part of the initiative. In order to find the species the team of Dr. Das made use of old documentation on the previous recording of it in 1924 and with that help they eventually spotted one of the toads two metres up in a tree during a night walk in the Western Sarawak range. In total they found three individuals, an adult male and adult female and a juvenile, ranging from 31 to 50 mm in length.

Dr. Das was thrilled by the discovery and his enthusiasm is very heartwarming and understandable because it provides much needed hope on the viability of amphibian populations in general. In his own words: “They (rediscovered ‘lost’ species, MB) remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering, which is why targeted protection and conservation is so important”. Protection and conservation is also critical for this particular species, because the area where it lives is threatened by resort development and habitat fragmentation. One of the reasons that the toad hadn’t been seen for such a long time was the fact that just a few herpetologists ever had the opportunity to access these remote mountains and now ironically the development of a golf resort has made the area more accessible, aiding in its rediscovery, but also posing a threat to its habitat at the same time.

© Indraneil Das, photograph from original press release of Conservation International ('Lost' species stages amazing reappearance act after eluding scientists for 87 years (July 14th 2011)) View of summit of Gunung Penrissen, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo - type locality of Ansonia latidisca.

At this moment very little is known about this species, apart from it living in trees and at high altitudes. The team is hoping to find out more about its ecology in the coming years with help of a grant of the University of Malaysia at Sarawak. More information on the species seems to be much needed with currently no information on the population size and with illegal collectors roaming around in the forest. In that way the scientists will come a step closer to ensuring the species won’t disappear again.

But as I said before, this finding brings hope to people who are committed to protecting our biodiversity. I would like to conclude with the inspiring words of Dr. Robin Moore, who launched the initiative on the Search for lost frogs: “It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet’s escalating extinction crisis. Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere.”

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