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'Extinct' frog discovered in NSW -

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'Extinct' frog discovered in NSW

Broadcast: 04/03/2010

Reporter: Rebecca Baillie

A species of frog has been found alive in the New South Wales Southern Tablelands, more than 30
years after it was thought to have become extinct.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: It's well-known that frogs are one of the great barometers by which to
measure the health of an environment, which is why their current predicament is a matter for global
concern.

Over the past few decades, more than 160 of the world's frog species are thought to have become
extinct, with many others critically endangered. There are more endangered frogs than there are
threatened mammals, reptiles or birds.

A study just released in the United States has found that male frogs are changing sex after being
exposed to the commonly-used agricultural weedkiller, Atrazine.

But there is some good news. Australian scientists have just discovered one species of frog long
believed to have been extinct, living at a secret location not far from the nation's capital.

Rebecca Baillie reports.

MICHAEL MCFADDEN, TARONGA ZOO: These frogs are absolutely amazing. They are a lot brighter in
colour and they've got marvellous yellow spots on their thighs and groin, which distinguish them
apart from other bell frog species. And they are very large.

REBECCA BAILLIE, REPORTER: It's the frog that's come back from the dead. For three decades the
yellow-spotted bell frog was thought to be extinct, until now.

DAVID HUNTER, NSW DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT: The fact that we've found it is extremely exciting
because it really is a very spectacular species and it was going to be a very - very much a tragedy
if we'd lost that species for good.

FRANK SARTOR, NEW SOUTH WALES ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: This is the equivalent of discovering the
Tasmanian Tiger in terms of amphibians, in terms of frogs, so it is a really important discovery.

(Frog croaks)

DAVID HUNTER: Look at that. That is just unbelievable.

I've been interested in frogs and reptiles all my life. I was one of those little kids that ran
around catching tadpoles and lizards and kept them.

REBECCA BAILLIE, REPORTER: Doctor David Hunter is a Threatened Species Officer at the New South
Wales Environment Department.

He and conservation officer Luke Pearce from New South Wales fisheries are the first people to have
seen the yellow spotted bell frog since it disappeared thirty years ago.

DAVID HUNTER, NSW DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT: This was definitely the most exciting moment of my
career and I'd be surprised if I'll repeat it.

REBECCA BAILLIE, REPORTER: The yellow spotted bell frog's disappearance could have been caused by a
range of factors, such as habitat destruction, pollution or disease.

DAVID HUNTER: They're slimy.

REBECCA BAILLIE: The frog had vanished from two key habitats, one near Armidale in Northern New
South Wales, and the other in that state's south.

The scientists found the frog population surviving in a remote stream on private land in the New
South Wales Southern Tablelands.

But its exact location remains a fiercely guarded secret.

DAVID HUNTER: We really don't want anyone going to the site, trying to see the bell frog or capture
the bell frog or photograph the bell frog, because there's always the possibility that that could
actually introduce an unknown pathogen into the population and cause a problem.

(Excerpt from documentary "The Man Who Loved Frogs")

VOICEOVER: Three thousand kilometres from the tropics lies the high country of South East
Australia.

Each spring, melting snow replenishes the mountain streams and the heights come alive with the
sound of frogs.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Australia is home to five per cent of the world's amphibian species, and boasts
more than 200 species of frogs. But it's believed seven of those have become extinct in the past
few decades, with another 40 threatened.

(Frog chirrups)

Kosciusko National Park was once a haven for Australia's frogs. Now it's a key battle ground for
David Hunter and his team who are fighting to save Australia's critically endangered frog species.

DAVID HUNTER: What, did we get here about six frogs here last time?

ASSISTANT: Yeah, there was six in the nests last time when we were here.

DAVID HUNTER: Yeah, okay. Cool.

REBECCA BAILLIE: Biologists estimate that up to half of the world's frog species face extinction.

With frogs highly sensitive to any environmental changes, they act as a barometer for the health of
the planet.

DAVID HUNTER: Hey frog! Ribbit!

Most frog species have this biphasic life cycle, where you have a tadpole in the aquatic
environment and a frog in the land environment. They are a good indicator for whether or not in
either of those two environments if might have any problems.

So if we start losing our frogs, we should be really concerned about the overall health of the
ecosystem.

REBECCA BAILLIE: The biggest problem, though, facing the world's frogs is the outbreak of a disease
caused by chytrid fungus.

MICHAEL MCFADDEN, TARONGA ZOO: It's a fungal pathogen that infects the skin of frogs - not all
frogs, but some frogs it hits particularly hard.

It spreads over their skin and eventually causes death in the frog. Frogs are disappearing left,
right and centre.

Okay, so this building is completely quarantined from the other frog facilities.

REBECCA BAILLIE: David Hunter is working with Michael McFadden from Taronga Zoo's frog breeding
program to ensure the newfound yellow spotted bell frog isn't lost again.

DAVID HUNTER: Wow, look at that, hey?

REBECCA BAILLIE: It's a fledgling operation, with tadpoles and one adult male salvaged from the
wild to provide the breeding stock which could well save the species.

MICHAEL MCFADDEN: We need to get an insurance population so that if something bad does happen over
the next year and they are totally gone, we have at least not lost that species and we can work at
re-introducing them back into their natural habitat.

REBECCA BAILLIE: It'll be a couple of years before the captive yellow spotted bell frogs will start
to spawn.

DAVID HUNTER: That is huge for an animal that has just changed from a tadpole into a frog.

REBECCA BAILLIE: But for the two frog warriors it'll be worth the wait.

MICHAEL MCFADDEN: It'll be amazing experience, particularly finding that first clutch of yellow
spotted bell frog spawn in the tank.

I can't wait to be able collect the data on these animals and then see them metamorphose and have a
large numbers of animals to know that the species will be secure in the wild.

(Frogs croak)

KERRY O'BRIEN: Rebecca Baillie with that report.