Potter Park Zoo helping save critically endangered toad

By  | 

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) -- The Potter Park Zoo is helping save a critically-endangered species.

It's called the Puerto Rican crested toad which was thought to be extinct until it was discovered on the island in 1967.

The zoo has been sending tadpoles to Puerto Rico for years through their yearly breeding program, but this year was particularly important to help replenish the population lost after Hurricane Maria.

Out of the 60 Puerto Rican crested toads at the zoo, only 10 can breed.

"You have to warm the toads up. You have to play romantic music which to them is the Puerto Rican toad call," said Melissa Sano, a zookeeper.

Since the zoo had success in 2009, they've bred roughly 20,000 tadpoles and have been able to release them. But Hurricane Maria in 2017 was devastating for local conservation efforts.

"All of the sites that we were breeding in Z-2 [inside the country], the shelters and the building structures were destroyed so we have been working on raising funds to rebuild all those structures. Not just the anti-predation structures above the ponds, but also the facilities that we were breeding in Puerto Rico to help these animals themselves," Sano said.

Thankfully, none of the ponds were destroyed or contaminated, although all breeding had to be halted that year. 2018 wasn't a great year for breeding either, but this year, the zoo sent 2,000 tadpoles to the island.

It was assumed that a lot of the wild population of toads were lost or swept out to sea after the hurricane so any zoo repopulation effort is going to be hugely impactful.

"If we're not conserving an animal that is the only indigenous toad, what are we working for? And especially in zoos, if we're not conserving species, what are we doing?" Sano said.

A handful of tadpoles were kept at Potter Park Zoo to help bolster the breeding population in other AZA-accredited zoos.

To donate to Potter Park Zoo's conservation efforts, visitors can purchase a bookmark at the gift shop, admissions, and parking and all of the funds will go to conservation. A kiosk is also located behind the Red Panda Exhibit called "Quarters For Conservation."