The rediscovery of a species characterized by its stunning coloration of shiny black skin with white spots has sparked renewed hope amongst conservationists.
Cover Photo Credits: Global Wildlife Conservation
The starry night harlequin toad has been spotted again for the first time in nearly 30 years. Believed extinct all this while, the critically endangered toad—which belongs to one of the most threatened groups of amphibians in the world—was photographed in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the tallest coastal mountain on Earth. With the Global Wildlife Conservation making the exciting announcement on Thursday, the rediscovery of the species characterized by its stunning coloration of shiny black skin with white spots, has sparked renewed hope amongst conservationists.
According to a report by Newsweek, the starry night harlequin toad was believed extinct since 1991 following the rapid spread of an amphibian-killing fungus known as chytrid. The rediscovery of the species is the result of a collaboration between Colombian non-profit Fundación Atelopus and the Arhuaco indigenous group. "While harlequin toads across Latin America at these higher altitudes have largely vanished over the past three decades as the result of a deadly fungal pathogen, it turns out that the starry night harlequin toad has bucked the trend," said Lina Valencia, Colombia conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation, in a statement.
"This is a powerful story about how working with indigenous and local communities can help us not just find species lost to science, but better understand how some species are surviving and how we can conserve the natural world in a way that connects spiritual and cultural knowledge. We are tremendously grateful to the Arhuaco people for giving us this opportunity to work with them," she added. Valencia also revealed that the starry night harlequin toad is likely poisonous given the toxins in their skin.
"Its bright coloration gives us clues about their possible toxicity. They live along creeks in mountain forests with low humidity, in one of the driest areas of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta," she said. Although scientists had feared the starry night harlequin toad extinct for almost 3 decades, the Sogrome community of the Arhuaco people who live in the Sierra Nevada have always known otherwise. "The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a place that we consider sacred, and harlequin toads are guardians of water and symbols of fertility. We manage our resources and conserve our home as the law of origin dictates, which means that we live in balance with Mother Earth and all of the life here," Kaneymaku Suarez Chaparro, a member of the Sogrome community, said in a statement.
"Now we have a great opportunity to bring together two worldviews for the protection and preservation of the Sierra species: the Western scientific knowledge and the indigenous scientific, cultural and spiritual knowledge," he added. Part of the reason why the toad hasn't been documented in so long is that biologists haven't had access to its habitat. It was only after years of negotiation that the community agreed to take a team of scientists to the starry night harlequin toad's habitat.
Friends, I'd like you to meet the starry night harlequin toad.— Jason Bittel (@bittelmethis) December 11, 2019
📸 c/o Fundacion Atelopus pic.twitter.com/teogI4fEe3
"It is an incredible honor to be entrusted with the story of the starry night harlequin toad and the story of the Sogrome community's relationship with it. We were hoping to find one individual of the starry night harlequin toad, and to our great surprise, we found a population of 30 individuals. We were full of joy and hope as we had the chance to observe a healthy population from a genus for which very few species remain," said Fundación Atelopus vice president and biologist José Luis Pérez-González, in a statement.
Read more about this amazing amphibian & the story of how scientists and indigenous people have learned to trust each other in the name of conservation.— Jason Bittel (@bittelmethis) December 11, 2019
For as Chaparro Villafaña says, “If we don't see gouna, that means that we are also disappearing." https://t.co/F7mXDwj2Pq
"With the starry night harlequin toad records, we confirm that Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is one of the most important sites for the conservation of harlequin toads in Latin America. And thanks to the indigenous communities like Sogrome, this special place continues to be a sanctuary for these special animals," said Luis Alberto Rueda, professor at Universidad del Magdalena and Fundación Atelopus co-founder.