It was in 1962 when the so-called “cave squeaker” frog was first found in the Chimanimani Mountains in Zimbabwe. The animal given the official scientific name Arthroleptis troglodytes was distinguishable by its dark-red hue and mucus-covered body, but it took more than 54 years before the second example of this creature was confirmed.
According to the Guardian, Arthroleptis troglodytes got its unusual nickname due to its chosen hideout, and since its discovery in 1962, it’s been considered one of the rarest amphibians in the animal kingdom. Due to a lack of confirmed sightings in the five decades since then, the frog was placed in an international red list of “threatened” animal species and was thought to be extinct, if not critically endangered.
Robert Hopkins, a research associate at the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, led the expedition to search for the cave squeaker, and he confirmed that there were four A. troglodytes specimens spotted in the Chimanimani Mountains, the same site of the original sighting. The first male specimen was found on December 3 after researchers heard an unusual animal call, and this was followed by two more males and a female.
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According to Hopkins, he had spent the last eight years hunting for the cave squeaker but was not present when his colleagues spotted the animal, on account of his advanced age.
“I was not with my team when they were found. I was at the base. I can no longer climb the mountains as I am 75.”
The Christian Science Monitor added in its own report that the new discovery, which was made in December 2016, came six years after several scientists from around the world had kicked off an initiative to search for frogs and salamanders that hadn’t been sighted in a decade or more. As such, the cave squeaker’s new sighting bodes well for this initiative and its success.
“These sorts of things are always good news, because there’s so much bad news in the realm of amphibians right now,” said Zoo Atlanta director of research Joe Mendelson, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor.
Mendelson added that when species are sighted once again after disappearing for multiple decades, that often results in a conundrum of sorts, where researchers aren’t sure whether the animal’s population is on the uptick again, or if the sighting represented one of the last few stragglers with the species gradually dying out over time.
“Those are two very different phenomena, and when you first find [a species], you really can’t distinguish them.”
Although the cave squeaker’s sighting is good news for conservationists, statistics from recent years show some troublesome signs for amphibians in general. The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the fact that these animals live on land and water makes them a good “gauge” of an ecosystem’s health at any given point. But as of 2004, statistics show that over 1,850 species of amphibian, or 32 percent of all species, are “considered threatened with extinction.” That’s much higher than the 12 percent of birds and 23 percent of mammals listed as threatened species.
Those numbers are now 13 years old, but a recent statement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources suggests that the data “remains relevant” even up to this day.
— Tim Huijsmans (@HuijsmansTim) February 3, 2017
Still, Hopkins and his associates have plans for the cave squeaker, as the Guardian noted. These plans include breeding the frogs and increasing their number, then reintroducing them to their natural habitat in the mountains of Zimbabwe. There are concerns. However, that other scientists may want to capture the frogs and illegally export them, due to the huge buzz generated by the discovery.
According to Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo, local authorities have guarded against this possibility, and will “do everything in (their) power” as they work on a plan to protect the cave squeaker.
[Featured Image by Francois Becker/AP Images]