A Critically Endangered and evolutionarily distinct species of frog has been bred in a UK zoo for the first time ever.
The team of amphibian keepers at ZSL London Zoo are the first in the world to have successfully bred Lake Oku clawed frogs (Xenopus longipes), marking a momentous step in ensuring the future survival of the species.
Classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, Lake Oku frogs are ranked as number 35 on ZSL’s EDGE List (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) due to their perilous conservation status and unique evolutionary history.
Native only to Lake Oku, a single high altitude freshwater lake in Western Cameroon, Africa, the small, totally aquatic frogs are some of the most genetically unusual creatures in the world, having developed extra chromosomes throughout their evolution.
Four of ZSL London Zoo’s thirteen tadpoles have already metamorphosed into juvenile frogs, and ZSL’s team of zookeepers have been working tirelessly to ensure the precise conditions are maintained for the precious amphibians.
New behavioural observations of the Lake Oku clawed frogs, made for the first time by zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo, revealed crucial insights not only into the requirements of the adult frogs but also their tadpoles, which prior to breeding at ZSL had never been seen in Zoos or the wild before.
Ben Tapley, head of the reptile and amphibian team at ZSL London Zoo said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the first Zoo in the world to have successfully bred the Lake Oku clawed frog.
“These Critically Endangered amphibians represent a unique branch of the evolutionary tree of life. Due to their restriction in the wild to just a single and relatively small site, they’re incredibly vulnerable to threats of invasive species or disease, which would be catastrophic if introduced to Lake Oku.
“We worked closely with field biologists to obtain very precise environmental data from Lake Oku which we replicated in our facilities here at ZSL London Zoo.
“We will now be able to share our insights gleaned from naturally breeding these frogs with conservation biologists working with the species in Cameroon and zoos around the world to help ensure a sustainable population can be maintained.
“It’s a phenomenal achievement for the survival of this species.”
The Lake Oku clawed frogs can be seen at the amphibian and reptile house.