For 13 years, the Critically Endangered Amathole Toad (Vandijkophrynus amatolicus) seemed to exist only in rumors. In 2010, South Africa’s rarest frog, which hadn’t been seen since 1998, made it onto the IUCN’s search for lost frog species campaign list. It wasn’t until 2011 when researchers Jeanne Tarrant and Michael Cunningham, turned up a single female, a few egg strings and tadpoles in a puddle in the road, sparking new hope for the survival of the species.
The hopeful trend continued. In 2012 a single male was located at a new location, and in 2013 a total of three Amathole Toads were found during the breeding season. Conservationists know it’s still out there, but the Amathole Toad remains elusive. The Amphibian Survival Alliance, a GWC associate, has since developed a model based on known records and ecological requirements to guide ongoing surveys.
Independently, the North-West University’s African Amphibian Conservation Research Group (Potchefstroom, South Africa) has started investigating the use of sniffer dogs to search for fossorial frog species. They have successfully trialed this novel approach on the Giant Bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus), a species locally threatened in Gauteng Province. The aim of this project is to make use of this ‘frog-sniffing’ method to help search for the Amathole Toad. This will be the first project of its kind in South Africa focused on a threatened frog species.
The project will take place within the toad’s very limited range, restricted to the Hogsback Region of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The sniffer dog, a frisky border collie called Jessie, will be trained prior to the trip based on scent samples obtained from an Amathole Toad (or the closely related Karoo Toad). Using the ASA’s predictive model as a guide, the project will focus its searches within areas of probable toad habitat during this species’ breeding season. This project will provide the necessary information to more fully understand the status of the Amathole Toad and to help prioritize sites for long-term protection, management and monitoring strategies. Once conservation plans are developed, they will made available to the landowners on whose property the species is known to live.