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Amphibian Extinction May First Claim The Frog

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Many of us grew up watching friendly Kermit the Frog on a television show called Sesame Street. Certainly, we can remember reading the fairy tale of the frog that turns into a handsome prince after receiving a kiss.

However, in the Bible, frogs were certainly less endearing when they became a hideous plague that confronted Egypt. Indeed, frogs have been a featured animal throughout our culture in movies, books, cartoons, and videogames. Sadly, before too long, we may only have our memories to remind us of the frog.

The problem first began nearly two decades ago when biologists noticed a dramatic decline in the populations of amphibians. Since then, that decline has gotten progressively worse. In fact, biologists now estimate that at least one-third of the world's known amphibians are under attack while twenty two species have already become extinct.

Frogs make up the majority of amphibians and they are invaluable to humans since they eat insects that other animals won't touch. In a world without amphibians, many insects would go unchecked and threaten public health and food supplies. In addition, frogs serve important biomedical purposes. Some frog species produce a chemical used as a pain reliever for humans while one species is even linked to a chemical that disables the virus that causes AIDS.

A list of known amphibians in danger includes frogs and toads, salamanders, newts, and the little-known group of legless, worm-like creatures called caecilians. Caecilians are extremely ecologically useful because as predators they consume harmful insects by the millions. However, frogs are at the forefront of the amphibian's worldwide problem since they have already lost an estimated one hundred and seventy species in the last ten years alone.

There have been numerous explanations for the drastic loss of amphibians during the last two decades. Some reasons; such as, human development compromising habitat, air pollution, and global climate change have been put forth.. However, all of these reasons failed to explain the extinction that amphibians have experienced on nature preserves and other relatively pristine lands.

It wasn't until scientists discovered that the devastation of frogs and other amphibians was caused by a fungus called Chytrid that the threat of extinction to amphibians became known. The fungus is unstoppable and untreatable in the wild, and kills by attacking the keratin in the resistant layer of the animal's skin. Since frogs use their skin to breathe and drink, it is believed the fungus "suffocates" them to death.

The fungus was first discovered in Australia and Panama ten years ago and since then has spread across Europe and both the Americas, causing skin infections and eventual death in every amphibian species it attacks. As a result of the fungus, nearly one-third of the known species of frogs worldwide now face extinction.

Consider that Australia and Panama have already lost two native frog species and more than half of Australia's remaining threatened frog species are already infected with the killer disease. Last year, Japan reported its first cases of frog deaths from the fungus, prompting research groups to declare an emergency in that country. On the Caribbean island of Dominica, the fungus has nearly wiped out the mountain chicken, a frog species considered an island delicacy. Meanwhile, the mountain yellow-legged frog has almost disappeared from Yellowstone National Park.

The plight of the frog and other amphibians has led to the development of a $500 million project called Amphibian Ark. The project hopes to recruit five hundred zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, universities, and other institutions around the globe to support at least one species of the amphibian class. In order to increase awareness of the extinction danger to the frog, zoos and conservatories world wide have promoted 2008 as the "Year Of The Frog."

Every zoo involved in the project will clean each amphibian to make sure the fungus doesn't make it into the protected population, and then isolate the population. The idea is to salvage members of each of the roughly 6,000 remaining amphibian species until science has found a way to stop the spread of the fungus in the wild. Once the fungus has been controlled, the zoos will slowly release the frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians back into their natural habitat.

Amphibian Ark director, Kevin Zipple, has called this program " the biggest conservation project that humanity has ever tried to tackle". It is a project that is really a race against time to save the frog and other amphibians from the sad fate of the Dodo bird and the dinosaur.

By James William Smith.