Health-checks for the nation’s frogs
Friday 25 July 2008
Conservation charities the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Froglife are calling for the public to look out for and report cases of sick and dead frogs – and other amphibians like toads and newts – in an attempt to expand vital research into the state of the nation’s amphibians.
The UK’s amphibians are being affected by two significant diseases, ranavirus and the chytrid fungus. Ranavirus kills thousands of frogs, toads and newts in the UK each year and the chytrid fungus, implicated in extinctions of amphibian species around the world, has recently been identified in the UK.
Scientists remain unsure of the extent to which amphibian populations are being affected and what the implications for the UK’s frogs, toads and newts may be. Dr Andrew Cunningham, senior ZSL scientist, commented, “Amphibians are being devastated by disease on a global scale but we have only an extremely limited picture of what is going on in our own backyard. Reports of outbreaks across the UK are absolutely vital for ZSL’s continuing research and, in the long term, to ensure the survival of our extraordinary amphibians.”
“There is a whole range of reasons why dead amphibians turn up in gardens and many of these are completely normal events. However, during the humid summer months we hear numerous reports of unusual frog deaths in gardens.” said Daniel Piec, Froglife’s Head of Conservation. “We are appealing to the public for information on new cases so that we can paint a better picture of the damage these amphibian diseases are inflicting.”
Both diseases are harmless to humans, but in amphibians result in a variety of symptoms that could include lethargy, thinness or unexplained mass-deaths of adults or juvenile amphibians. Internal bleeding and open skin sores have also been reported. Members of the public who have come across unusual amphibian deaths in their gardens are urged to submit their information on the Froglife website: www.froglife.org . This information will then be used by ZSL in its research on diseases affecting UK amphibians.
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Notes to editors
- Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over thirty countries worldwide. www.zsl.org
- Froglife is a UK wildlife charity committed to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles – working with people, enhancing lives together for a healthier planet. Froglife was established in 1989, in response to alarming declines in the UK's amphibians and reptiles. The organisation has since pushed hard for public involvement in their cause - through campaigns, projects and media work.
- Ranavirus is a non-native disease, first discovered in the UK by ZSL in 1995, the origins of which are unknown. ZSL studies have shown the virus to be closely related to those found in North American amphibians. One possibility, yet to be fully investigated, is that the virus was introduced with imports of North American bullfrogs or freshwater fish. The disease is harmless to humans.
- Amphibian chytrid is a non-native fungal disease that infects the skin of amphibians, a vital organ through which many drink and breathe. It was identified in 1998 by an international team of scientists led by ZSL. It is believed to have originated in Africa, with the export of African clawed frogs around the world for human pregnancy testing and lab studies spreading the disease worldwide. Recently, the food and pet trades may have contributed to the problem as well. The disease is thought to have been responsible for catastrophic declines in some Australian, North American, Central American, South American and Caribbean species. The situation in Europe is less clear through a lack of data, although some species have seriously declined in upland areas of Spain.
Recently the fungus has been detected in two areas of the UK, although it is not yet clear whether it is causing population declines here. Both native and introduced amphibians have shown infection and although individuals can be effectively treated with fungicide, this method is likely to be impractical for its control in wild populations.