Wetas back from the brink and breeding

Two threatened species of weta – found only in tiny pockets of the Tusked WetaCoromandel and King Country – have recently been discovered breeding outside their traditional habitats, thrilling conservationists involved in their plight.  The ferocious-looking Middle Island Tusked weta and the Mahoenui Giant weta were once feared extinct, but the latest findings have given renewed hope to their long-term survival.

Giant WetaSince then Doc has carried out extensive investigations and feasibility studies aimed at increasing the number of Tusked wetas and moving them.That is due to Conservation Department (Doc) recovery programmes, which date back 10 years.
The Tusked weta was discovered on Middle Island, part of Coromandel’s Mercury group of islands, less than 30 years ago.
  It was hailed as one of the most exciting insect finds of the century.

Jason Roxburgh of Doc’s Hauraki office told The Waikato Times this week there had been a breakthrough… Tusked weta had been recently identified on nearby Red Island.

“It’s an amazing achievement given that translocation (shifting) of other invertebrates to other islands hasn’t been overly successful.  It was a really steep learning curve… taking in a species we didn’t know anything about. Its behaviour is so different. It lives underground most of the time, which makes things difficult.”

The captive breeding programmed that had operated since 1993 was done in conjunction with Chris Winks of Landscape Research.  In 2000, Mr. Winks and Doc staff had released 150 weta on Double Island and Red Island, said Mr. Roxburgh.

Signs of breeding were first discovered in April this year.

“When they come above ground the females have egg spikes, which they poke into the ground, so we’d seen where they had been.”

The only way to confirm offspring was by constructing an inside enclosure.

“The guys found some eggs in them, then found some tiny weta,” said Mr. Roxburgh.  “It’s like a safety net. We’ve got two populations living separately, so we’ve got an insurance policy.”

The real celebrations were being saved for next year, however, when it was hoped a further generation of Tusked weta would be produced.

“That’ll be the true beginning of a new population,” Mr. Roxburgh said.

The Tusked weta would then be protected from being wiped out by an environmental disaster, such as fire.

Although the relocation programme for the King Country’s giant Mahoenui Weta on Mahurangi Island in Coromandel had shown no evidence of success, there was still hope. About 200 were set free on Mahurangi in 1996.

But Tertia Thurley of Doc’s Maniapote office said some Mahoenui giant weta had been successfully moved from the Mahoenui scientific reserve to a small block of gorse on private land.

That had proved the weta was capable of being moved.

 

Poisonous Customers hop to the aid of Peru’s forests.

An innovative frog-exporting business is a new departure for the private-Poisonous frog-exporting from Perulending arm of the World Bank, writes Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times (London, May 3, 2003, Saturday USA Edition 1)

They may not have studied at Harvard Business School but the International Finance Corporation’s latest recruits are doing more than their fair share to promote sustainable development. Decked out in vivid colours, the tiny amphibians at the private-lending arm of the World Bank are poison-dart frogs. Known as Epipedobates and Dendrobates, they are part of a business model to protect Peruvian rainforests.

The IFC and a local partner are establishing a frog ranching and export business. “We are promoting sustainable cultivation of poison-dart frogs for export so local people can earn a better living from conserving the forest than cutting it down,” said Sam Keller, the IFC officer responsible for the project. The move reflects a new trend in the way the IFC does business. Other projects in the pipeline include a catch-and-release eco-tourism fly-fishing venture in Mongolia.

“The IFC used to fulfil its mission largely by providing financing for private-sector projects in developing countries when few other institutions would do so,” said Mr. Keller. “But now we are trying to identify activities that provide environmental and social benefits while enhancing the bottom line.”

Using a technique developed by German biologist Rainer Schulte, fanners, or campesinos, attach half-cut plastic bottles to trees, filling them with water to create breeding pools in which frogs deposit tadpoles hatched from the females’ eggs.

Subsistence farmers can earn more selling frogs to pet markets than selling trees to loggers. Campesinos generally earn $50 a month but the IFC hopes to boost their income to $115. In the process, it estimates it can save 3,000 hectares of forest.

The genesis for the project came from Dutch biologist Jan Post, who stumbled on the potential of frogs. After buying his daughter five less exotic frogs, she bred them into 100 that she sold at an amphibian day in Baltimore, Maryland. “By 4pm she had sold the whole lot for $750.” Mr. Post noted that poison-dart frogs, more difficult to breed, fetched higher prices. He then developed the project, working with Mr. Schulte, before bringing it to the IFC to obtain finance. The project won the World Bank’s Innovation in the Marketplace award.

Sabrina Bimer, a biodiversity business consultant who did research for the IFC, said: “They (poison-dart frogs) range in price from $40 to $120.” Rarer species can fetch as much as $200. The largest market outside the US is Germany, where there are an estimated 10,000 frog enthusiasts.

Frogs & Forests, as the IFC-backed business is called, is steering clear of the seamier side of the trade in rare animals. Less highly principled entrepreneurs supply pet lovers in the developed world with protected species and have links with criminal networks.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, trading the frogs is only permitted as long as the population is sustained. The IFC estimates the trade in smuggled poison-dart frogs is as much as $2m a year. Mr. Keller said a benefit of the IFC project is that it would help reverse a declining population.

“We should be able to capture a fair amount of the legal market share and displace a considerable amount of the illegal trade because we are a low-cost producer and consumers prefer to buy legally imported frogs if they are available,” said Mr. Keller.

Poison-dart frogs are so named because of the tribal practice, which still exists in parts of Colombia, of extracting their toxin for darts that are shot from blowpipes to kill animals. The frogs can easily adapt to urban life. When removed from their natural habitat they lose their toxicity and pose no threat to their owners.

All the weta to see you with

In an effort to help the population of the Weta grow. William Scholten, 6, of Karori, goes in for a better view of a Cook Strait giant weta. Gone from the mainland for more than a century, William’s mate is one of about 100 making a comeback at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Weta is a special creature we need to save

The release is the first of four planned from Matiu-Somes Island and Mana Island, with 450 of the mouse-sized insects eventually expected to be transferred. Nancy McIntosh-Ward is the sanctuary chief executive. Yesterday, she said she was delighted about the new guests.

 

Weta were like “living dinosaurs“, as unique to the New Zealand landscape as kiwi and tuatara. The Cook Strait giant weta Weighed up to 27 grams and measuring about 70 millimetres long. Rats and stoats origiganlly drove them from the mainland. The giants were herbivores. We think they are more docile than their common relatives despite their size. In another first, we fitted 20 of the weta with radio transmitters. This monitors their movement around the sanctuary, she said. New Zealand is home to more than 70 species of weta.

The word comes from Wetapunga, the Maori god of ugly things.

Dendrobatid Frogs in Original Rainforests

Since 1981, the author is working on the development of strategies and methods to manage and to rescue Dendrobatid frogs in original rainforests of South America, especially in Peru (see also Schulte 1999, PDF- PERU, Vol. 2 and Schulte 1997 A+ B). It has to be noted here, that nearly all poison dart frog species except Colostethus and some new genera are currently on CITES Listing No. 2 as endangered species- which is completely true! But CITES tries to restrict only the commercial and scientific impact on the Dendrobatid faunas (with very questionable results- see Schulte: PDF Peru, Vol. 1– in press), but does not resolve the primary reason of endangering: The constant loss and clearing of the original habitats of the frogs all over Central- and South America! Together with the Frog Holocaust, spreading out fast from Central America and caused by the Chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium Longcore, Pessier & Nichols 1999 (see also Schulte, PDF Vol. 2 and Vol. 1: chapter Diseases – in press) plus the other still unknown factors responsible for an extremely fast extermination of dozens of Atelopus species in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, a very dark future for rainforest amphibians is coming up!

Until today, there exist NO SPECIAL ATTEMPT to protect the original habitats of poison dart frog species and their equally important variants or to try a scientifically based management of those frogs! Some few species are included in a couple of national reserves only by hazard- see for example the reserves of Costa Rica and the Manu National Park in Peru, but this is absolutely no warrant, that those frogs are safe there- see the Chytrid Holocaust, the burning down of immense extensions of the RORAIMA State Forests in Brazil, and the ongoing forest destruction at our Reserva Cerro Escalera, San Martin (120.000 Ha)!

There were some projects to breed poison dart frogs in Costa Rica and Ecuador, but most of them have nothing to do with a scientifically planned management and are at the best cover ups for the direct extraction of wild caught reproductors! One of the first real breeding farms attempted by Mr. Siegfried, (Costa Rica) in the 80´s failed by introduction of the Scratching Disease virus into his installations. This mortal and highly contaminating virus is present in natural populations of Dendrobates granuliferus and a similar one (or the same) in Dendrobates tinctorius from French Guyana. Recently, Dr. Jack K. Frenkel, Sta. Fe, USA, could provide the first electron microscope photos, showing this new Pico-RNA virus, destroying muscle tissue of a D. auratus sample. The photo of this virus is coming in Schulte, PDF-PERU, Vol. 1: Diseases. 

Before we try to start any management or production projects, we should know the dangers and diseases waiting out there! We specialists in amphibian management and rescue methods (see Schulte 1980/84: intensive methods, and Schulte 1999, PDF, Peru, Vol. 2) should act and try to save at least as much species as we can- but such activities are usually not funded nor sponsored at all or have lowest priority levels in funding agencies, which keep the mammal projects on the top! And worse: As the experience with Bufo periglenes shows, rescue attempts are simply blocked by incompetent bureaucrats sitting in comfortable government offices, not knowing what is really happening out there with the faunas of their countries! 

Another problem is that we hardly know half of the rainforest amphibians really present in each country- so problems of population decreases are recognized too late, just when the species went extinct under our nose! One reason might be, too, that such extinctions are extremely FAST- one or two years are enough to loose several dozens of native species completely- especially the Atelopus are a leading sample at the moment, followed by hylids and other species. What can we do?

First of all, every management method or rescue attempt requires the deepest knowledge of the species, its reproductive biology, spacing in the forest, food resources used, and a lot more. From most rainforest amphibians, we have only sporadic or no data, with exception of the Dendrobatid frogs, some of the commercial species used as human food (Genus Rana), some of the Hylids frogs investigated by William E. Duellman and his Kansas University students, or scientific test amphibians (Claw frogs).

Most data of the Dendrobatid frogs had been obtained from terrarium observations (including the discovery of the egg feeding!) during more than 60 years. But one thing is to keep frogs in cages and another, to try to manage them in their original habitats! Rainforests and understory vegetation types may change completely across a big riverine barrier or under the shadow of a mountain slope or in a Pongo– humid pocket- and species had to adapt to those conditions during an evolution of 120 million years (in Dendrobatid frogs). 

The special feature of the poison dart frogs compared to other frogs is, that they are strongly linked by evolution to certain reproductor- and home plants with phytotelmata, where they deposit their tadpoles (Dendrobates species). In Epipedobates and Phyllobates, such frogs depend on small forest quebradas, leaf litter ditches, rock holes and other structures (for details see Schulte, PDF-PERU, Vol. 1 – in press). The knowledge of those structures used by each species is essential for faunal surveys and the absence of breeding plants and structures also causes the absence of a species in one forest patch! It is logical, that we must know such data before we try to develop any management project for each species.

If we want to design an extensive field management method for Dendrobatids, we must select previously several outlines:

The process should function in original habitats or secondary forest lots. (The author designed his methods even for application in strictly PROTECTED RAINFORESTS!).

The management should not affect the forest nor the genetic resources present (the reproductors for example or their breeding plants).

The process should be simple, cheap, and with lowest labor time investment.

The management should produce frogs with highest genetic diversity- not the problematic inbreed-offspring, created with intensive managed small breeding groups. (Our produced froglets have the same maximum genetic diversity like the original reproductors in the field!).

The management method MUST NOT hinder nor inhibit the natural production in the forest lot before installing the management project! (This is the most important condition of our management types).

The management must not produce depredation effects in other forest lots! (This may happen, if we collect for example bromeliads in great numbers in another forest to introduce them in our management project! We usually RESCUE bromeliads, orchids and breeding plants from freshly cleared forest lots and new chacras {fields} and introduce them into our management sites- otherwise they will be destroyed during the following burning down {Quemada} of the cutted forest).

The original toxins in the offspring MUST BE PRESENT, if froglets are used later for repopulating or rescue projects. (As it is well known, Dendrobatid frogs loose their toxins completely during intensive management and captive propagation, induced by the lack of original leaf litter food insects). Offsprings without toxins from intensive terrarium management projects may be distributed among terrarium hobbyists- but if frogs return to original habitats they must be toxic to be able to survive out there under the pressure of dozens of enemies like snakes, birds, mammals, cannibalistic frogs, spiders, ants, and a lot more. There are still some questions, how the toxins are stored and passed to the offspring, but at least in Epipedobates, the author suspects that froglets initially have no toxins and achieve them during the first weeks on land, when they slowly loose their cryptic coloration (see PDF-PERU, VOL. 1, Chapter Toxins- in press).

The management process should even function in small, well controllable areas. (In reality, some of our methods function with only ONE home tree or ONE Master Bromeliad!).

Campesinos or natives must be able to understand and to run by their own such management projects. (We have to create an income in extremely poor rural environments with a low education level!).

Output should be half-grown frogs. (To avoid the smuggling in of illegally caught adult frogs from the forest, the author had established this restriction). During our management it is easy to produce frogs in juvenile size classes in the farm- but it is very difficult, to find young frogs in high numbers in the forest! This helps to control illegal introduction of wild caught frogs, declared later as “produced offspring”- the most common failure in commercial fauna management projects!).

The management process should create a “Private Rainforest Protection Interest” in the campesinos, native community or settlement where such projects are installed.

Incoming frog money should be distributed to other projects, which improve the social and ecological situation of the area (reforestation with native species, other alternative management projects like honey bee- cultures, distribution of saplings of native fruits improving the supply of Drosophila in the production lots , installation of orchid- and ornamental plant cultures etc.).

The management projects must be a real alternative to the illegal drug production income, which always is present in the rainforests of northern South America. (In reality, the Dendrobatid management projects can create a surprisingly higher annual income for the campesinos than any illegal activity of producing Coca or Marihuana). See the example of income generated by a Dendrobates reticulatus management project in SCHULTE 1997 A + B.  Unfortunately, not all East Andean landscapes in Peru have Dendrobatid species for management- sometimes biogeographical barriers functioned perfectly (example: the Valley of the Alto Mayo, San Martin, Peru).

The management project must permit an easy steering and control of the output (more or lesser production).

The legally fixed “return factor” of management offspring to original habitats should be automatically maintained. “Returned” frogs MUST HAVE THE TOXINS!

Those points above are the minimum outlines of our management strategies and projects. Since 1998, three different management methods had been tested with success: the ZIRA for several Dendrobates species, the ZIR for Epipedobates species and the ZIRAN for those Dendrobates, which do not accept the artificial structures used with our ZIRA method. All three methods even can be applied to strictly protected rainforests or secondary forests and one of the greatest advantages is, that all methods do not need vast forest extensions! The ZIR method for example can work well with artificial ditches or forest road drains without needing a rainforest lot for a species management!

The development of the methods, which are hybrids between an extensive and intensive management, is based on 20 years of field research in the Peruvian Oriental Cordillera High Forest and the Lowland Forest of the Iquitos region and 36 years of personal experience in breeding, handling and shipping of Dendrobatids.

The ZIRA method, the first one applied to a strictly protected rainforest lot of 2 Ha on the summit of the Cordillera Oriental and which works with two difficult to manage arboreal Dendrobates species, functions now two years as a pilot project and is the training base of a more extensive rescue- and production project by means of an especially created Campesino NGO (ASPRAVEP), dedicated to the production of 8 species of Dendrobatid frogs. About 24 members (the author included) are managing 250 ha of original rainforest remnants of the Valley of the Alto Cainarache river, one of the most important Dendrobatid habitats in North East Peru.

INIBICO – http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Jungle/6403/english.html – sponsored the establishment of the ASPRAVEP-NGO with own funds and donations since 1998, obtained help from two Municipalities (gasoline) and received a small money donation from a German pet shop through the efforts of promotion via our German INIBICO branch. Those funds had been invested in improvement of INIBICO´s infrastructure and a lot of extension work, joining the campesinos for several training classes and practical workshop events. It was necessary to instruct them in Dendrobatid biology and production methods, to provide free materials needed for the methods and to organize the legal aspects of this world’s first Campesino Dendrobatid Producer Association. The habitants of the valley are classified in official government reports as belonging to the status of “extreme poverty”. The social-, educational, and financial income data gathered by INIBICO from the members of this first Campesino group reflect this situation. The author knows most members personally since the establishment of the INIBICO Investigation Project in 1982 and the previous work during his thesis since 1979. Although there was a little increase of income during the rise and boom of the illegal Coca drug production and Narco activities in the valley during the past 10 years, hardly any individual progress can be observed. (Empiric law of illegal Drug Money: Easy comes, easy goes!). At the moment, the Valley is a Protected Rainforest Area, belonging to the 120.000 Ha Reserva Cerro Escalera (R.D. No.187-92-CORDESAM/DDAG and D.S. No. 12-94-AG), but nobody respects this situation and the remaining forest is cutted off for coffee plantations and extensive cattle farms, endangering severely the endemic variants of D. fantasticus, E. cainarachi, E. azureiventris and other species of Dendrobatid frogs living in this formerly fantastic valley.

As the author and INIBICO own 10 ha of original rainforest remnants in the valley used for scientific experiments and investigation since 1981. Something has to be done to stop the ongoing clearing of the valley slopes and floor urgently. One strategy, the only one possible if talking about real protection of rainforests, is to show the campesinos the VALUE of an intact rainforest. This creates a personal interest in the destroyers to protect the forest by their own in the future. But this is only possible, if the destroyers can receive a (monetary) benefit from their activity of protecting their forest lots. And this is the point, where we engage our management projects of Poison Dart Frogs for export, which create a high number of benefits and resolve several problems with one stroke! But first, the author wants to explain the management methods in brevity:

The principal discovery to be able to manage poison dart frogs in original forests was, that in every rainforest checked by the author in Central- and South America commonly exists a constant lack of sufficient structures which the Dendrobatids need for their life style (see also Caldwell 1993). There are only a few special situations in Peru, where and when a species can maintain a superpopulation in an original forest patch and the only species of Peru capable of sustaining such high individual numbers in original forest sites is D. reticulatus (see Schulte 1997, A+B). This species, which was smuggled constantly in the past in higher numbers, has a very dangerous disease, called BLOATING DISEASE (see Schulte, PDF- PERU, Vol. 1, chapter Diseases- in press) in the Iquitos area. We can’t try any management without having solved this problem – and shipping such infected frogs abroad cause the contamination of the intermediate dealer installations and later affect all the terrarias of the hobbyists! (The European hobbyists may remember the effects of the SCRATCHING DISEASE, introduced with wild caught D. tinctorius from French Guyana and later with D. granuliferus from Costa Rica). Until now, the author could develop a treatment of the BLOATING DISEASE, but the origin and the infection mode remain completely unknown. 

There is another disease present in Peruvian Dendrobatids, which affects all bigger Epipedobates species in San Martin – it is an endemic myasis, possibly produced by a color fly of the Lucilia group. But this problem is restricted to some areas and was never observed by the author in other regions of Peru. Therefore, hobbyists will receive from our breeding projects SANE frogs, which passed a severe quality control. Everybody can try a management, but without such special knowledge, those management projects fail completely and may cause even severe international veterinary problems! For a good reason the longest and most important chapter in Vol. 1 PDF- Peru is the Disease chapter! But returning to the point: to solve the problem of D. reticulatus, the author wants to manage such frogs far away from the Iquitos area- but this strategy has its own difficulties: D. reticulatus was first described from Yurimaguas some 100 years ago. Until today, the author could not record this species from the forests around Yurimaguas and the same is valid for D. fantasticus. We found instead several new species and variants like D. imitator yurimaguensis, D. (riverinus), the possibly real D. ventrimaculatus and a new striped variant of D. fantasticus! It seems that D. reticulatus s.s. and D. fantasticus s.s. were brought in from far away and later, Dr. Hahnel deposited the material in the British Museum, where G.A. Boulenger finally could describe them in 1883. We are working on the problem and possibly will find the last refuge of these species on one of our next lowland forest expeditions. 

All other Dendrobatids in Peru (except D. reticulatus) maintain low to very low population densities in the forests. This often is caused by the complete lack of the breeding plants the frogs are linked to by evolution! In a lot of cases, the frogs must use replacement plants in emergency, with phytotelmata not sufficiently big enough to maintain a higher breeding activity and offspring output around the year.

More natural superpopulations of poison dart frogs one can find in Colombia and Central America, comprised of the egg-feeder groups of D. pumilio and D. histrionicus: Cacao plantations in Panama and Costa Rica are nearly natural breeding farms of such frogs (but require several improvements if frogs must be PRODUCED). But this luck we do not have in Peru and therefore, our management projects must be designed usually for low population-density frog species, which are wide spaced in the forests!

The basic method of all our management strategies is, to link us right into the breeding biology of the species in a parallel mode, so natural reproduction is not affected in their original reproductor plants or forest structures! In our projects, we even help the frogs to maintain their natural breeding by cleaning their bromeliads from the deadly leaf- choking (see Vol. 1, PDF-PERU), caused by extreme dry periods and global climatic changes during the past 19 years! This parallel mode is ideal, because we can apply such methods even in totally protected forests in a nearly invisible way! 

It is of no interest, how many reproductors live in our management lots, because we never disturb, touch, collect, or mark them! Not respecting this basic law, the failure of several national faunal management projects in Amazonian ecosystems was the result (Caimans, Peccaries and others)! Every noise and especially the capture and recapture of reproductors may cause the immediate migration of the affected species to more silent or deeper forests, where human presence is lacking. 

The same happens with poison dart frogs if we collect them, clip toes, or proceed with other scientific- or management handling! If we never disturb the frogs and move in the forest with camouflage clothes and without noise, they soon will tolerate us and after two years now, we can watch them in full reproduction and take photos with a flashlight without affecting them! Therefore, human presence in our management lots is limited only to the weekly or monthly control walks! The author knows forests, where big Epipedobates trivittatus (the not accepted “Phobobates” of Zimmermann& Z. 1988!) walk on our hand and along our arm- because they never had contact to humans and consider us simply as another forest structure and not an enemy!

To use our parallel reproduction mode, we must introduce artificially more original reproductor plants of the species in our management lot- and this may cause the negative depredation of another forest to obtain for example several hundred bromeliads for one small management lot. Displaced bromeliads need their time to fix themselves with new roots to new structures and water retaining in their leaf axils may be completely insufficient during the fixation phase, because their leaves became smashed during transport and handling!

At this point enters the next outstanding invention of the author: the recycling of common plastic garbage into the rainforest to manage and to save rare frogs! We are using especially cutted 1,5 l one-way plastic bottles of the world’s most famous brands- therefore such structures are called COCO- Containers by us (coming from Coca Cola, a registered trade mark). Each bottle gives us two vessels for our ZIRA- management (ZIRA= Zoocriadero Intensivo with Artificial Ranching), which are fixed in the management lot in a special way (training classes in our Pilot Projects!) along a narrow, nearly invisible forest trail, called “Trocha de Manejo” (Management trail). 

In lowland forest, where our steep slopes of the Cordillera Oriental are lacking, such vessels may be distributed also in the quadrant mode (see Caldwell 1993, and Caldwell & Araujo 1998). There are some important adds used in the vessels to avoid rain flooding and the drowning of frogs or forest insects. The ZIRA vessels usually are recognized and used nearly the same day after installation in the forest. We fill the vessels with water from a nearby quebrada or with rainwater, collected in other bottles installed at strategic sites in the forest lot. If we do not want to carry water, the rains can do the filling of the vessels automatically! All vessels are numbered and tagged to facilitate the control and to be able to locate problems in the management lot. Tadpole alimentation is natural, mostly comprising of the omnipresent mosquito larvae, which provide 90 % of the tadpole food of Dendrobates species in our artificial containers. During the control walks (called Censos), we fill up the water, check protectors, record air- and water temperature and occupation of the vessels. Those data are registered into an Excel worksheet or we use a tape recorder. It is logical, that we must draw a map of the trocha de manejo and sketch into it the locations of the vessels or other management structures. All our management lots and trails are located with a GPS system, if the forest canopy allows the penetration of the satellite signals. All ZIRA bottles we obtain free from Restaurants, the city garbage trucks of Tarapoto or may pick them up along our forest roads- doing a cleaning of our roads from such abundant litter!

The production of a ZIRA lot is easily controlled and steered by the length of the management trail and the number of vessels installed into the managed forest lot. A good production lot has one 100-m trail and 100 correctly installed vessels, but this depends also on species and forest type. (We currently are working with more than 1200 ZIRA vessels in our ASPRAVEP organization!). If we let a ZIRA project run free without harvesting the output, we create automatically a species rescue project.

Froglets, which metamorphose in our vessels, return to the forest and form a future stable reproductor stock, fixed to our artificial structures. As we are controlling periodically our vessels, we can remove phytotelmata predators like Odonata and Toxorhynchus larvae and sometimes, we have to remove frog feeding snakes and to free them in other forest sites away from our projects (we always avoid killing such animals and even the common venomous snakes like Bothrops microphtalmus– they are very useful biological control organisms and have their correct place in any rainforest ecosystem!).

There are Dendrobates species, which do not accept our artificial ZIRA vessels, and the author had to develop the third management method, called ZIRAN (= Zoocriadero Intensivo with Artificial Ranching, using Natural Structures). This method is more complicated, because we must use original reproductor plants, mounted around Master Bromeliads on Master Trees in the forest. Master Bromeliads contain always one resident Dendrobates male and both must never be disturbed!

Our peripherally mounted ZIRAN-bromeliads- like the ZIRA vessels- receive numbers and plastic tags and are mounted in a way, that we can remove them easily for leaf axil controls. The original plants are collected or better rescued from new forest clearings, which are abundant at all places. After a storm, we can pick up and rescue other fallen down bromeliads and install them in the ZIRAN lots. We additionally train the campesinos in such strategies and Bromeliad cultivating methods. Sometimes, we use a combined ZIRA-ZIRAN method for rare species.

The second method is the ZIR (Zoocriadero Intensivo with Ranching), designed by the author for frogs of the Epipedobates group. The ZIR is more complicated and needs obligatory good insect cultures to feed higher froglet numbers. As such frogs and their tadpoles need mostly slow flowing water conditions, infrastructure is more complicated. The ZIR method does not need any forest lot in most cases- tadpoles may be obtained from artificial ditches! Structures used depend on the species (normal tadpoles or microfilter-skimmer tadpoles).

All three methods produce tadpoles and froglets, obtained by parallel reproduction efforts of the frogs in the field (they always can choose free between our artificial structures or their natural ones and in reality, both reproduction modes function excellent in our Pilot Projects). The management of the tadpoles, the food requirements, the raising with or without toxins, marking methods etc. are part of our Intensive Management and final product are semiadult or nearly adult frogs, which will better adapt later to the conditions in the hobbyist terrarias.

This restriction is necessary to avoid the smuggling in of wild caught adult frogs from the forest. Later declaring them as “farm produced offspring”- as it is the common strategy in such frog farm projects. CITES- and all government authorities should allow ONLY the EXPORT OF SEMIADULT ZOOCRIADERO DENDROBATID FROGS, to stop the smuggling in of illegally wild caught adult frogs into the shipments.

To obtain bigger numbers of juvenile frogs from the forests is difficult, but in the farm we grow such frogs in size classes and the size limitation can easily be accepted. We are working on other methods to be able to detect smuggled in wild caught frogs into Zoocriadero shipments.

Even toxin research may receive in a near future PRODUCED TOXIC DENDROBATIDS, because our intensive methods function also in original rainforest lots, where the froglets have always access to their natural food- the primary source of their defense alkaloids stored in their skins!

INIBICO needs urgent help from specialized botanists (bromeliad and breeding plant determination), from toxin research (several new species with novel toxins are present in Peru like E. pongoensis, E. azureiventris and Colostethus nexipus?) and insect specialists to determine predators and food insects.

At the moment, we are trying to obtain the first Zoocriadero Comunal licensing with our ASPRAVEP NGO in Peru. It is a long (45 days or more) and very expensive process, but we hope all goes well with our pioneer projects. We are making now propositions to CITES, how to control, license and codify our future network of breeding farms in South- and Central America to simplify controls and paperwork. Each project should have an internationally valid (bar code) number, which must show the location, the country of origin, the type of management used and the species to be produced. Easier export-import paperwork will save important shipment time and increase survival rates during handling! The final goal of INIBICO is, to install at least ONE breeding farm or management project FOR EVERY EXISTANT VARIANT of poison dart frog during the next decade – so most species may be freed completely from CITES restrictions in a near future and survival of the frogs may be guaranteed! We must also be prepared for the Chytrid Holocaust, which currently kills thousands of frogs in Central America, including Dendrobatids and spread out with a velocity of 100 km year or even faster if fungus is transported in wet soil on shoes or camping gear! 

All (frog) tourists or even scientists visiting Central America or Australia may carry the fungus with them! INIBICO visitants coming from such infected countries must use new shoes and no camping gear or boats, which might introduce the Chytrids to our rainforest area! We must be able to REINTRODUCE the lost species in Central America after the first killing wave had passed! All the Central American countries should take care and install intensive projects for each variant. We can treat and control the Chytrids in such installations with medicines recently under test. At the moment, pharmacological experiments are going on and first medicines are available, but a treatment of original rainforests is completely impossible! Maybe, that even the hobbyists are just the right source for saving the natural Dendrobatid populations in a near future!

INIBICO urgently needs contact to all governments which have Dendrobatid frogs on their faunal listings. Especially of those countries, which are affected by the Chytrid Holocaust. We have the ideas and the technology now to save the native Dendrobatids. But, we need an urgent international funding of all our projects. Dendrobatid hobbyist associations may join us directly to coordinate and finance such rescue and management actions during the next years and CITES – IUCN must help us in our efforts, too. Several of Peru are currently severely endangered (see PDF-Peru, Vol. 2 and Schulte 1990) and INRENA should join our work and avoid to bypass CITES regulations. Contact us at inibico@telematic.com.pe and at our home page http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Jungle/6403.

During our pilot projects of management, new scientific data are gathered constantly. We have now information about new depredators of eggs, tadpoles and froglets in the field. We are also tracing some natural problems of egg losses by strange (bacterial?) infections (see Schulte, PDF- PERU, Vol. 1, in press). INIBICO is preparing the Management Manuals in Spanish for certain species: the first one treating D. imitator, D. variabilis and D. fantasticus is ready for printing and we need to finance such publications. For the expensive extension- and Campesino training work we also require funds. Perhaps the German GTZ and other government development agencies may help our work. Like the Canadian Government which financed our Faunal Management Workshop at Iquitos some years ago. All governments must not forget that we are attacking DIRECTLY COCA DRUG PRODUCTION AND COMMERCE in the drug producing countries like Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. Giving a real alternative to the poorest campesinos by managing Dendrobatids and protecting directly their original rainforest sites!

It would be good if each hobbyist wants to help maintain the original habitats of the Dendrobatids. This will also secure a legally supply of known and new PRODUCED Dendrobatids. However, without endangering native populations of the frogs and their variants.

Producing semiadult (not collecting wild caught adult) Dendrobatids in the countries of origin generates several positive effects. Creation of an income in US$ and JOBS in extreme poor rural or native communities. Direct protection of important lots of original habitats of the frogs and their often striking variants. Payment of taxes to the governments. Generation of income in National Parks and Reserves to maintain a service of forest guards. Creating an alternative to the coca drug production. Obtaining more scientific data from the management lots and for each species. Supply of toxic frogs for biomedical research without exterminating species or variants. Best protection of the GENETIC RESOURCES of the countries of origin: the reproductors STAY in the country and only the PRODUCED juvenile offsprings are exported! The creation of an automatic protection of the rainforests and their species by adding a monetary value to some of the components of the ecosystem. The automatic elimination of the dangerous contrabando or smuggling of the frogs (the campesinos now PROTECT their reproductors!). An easy access to the produced frogs for pet shops. Hobbyists, laboratories, research institutes and much more are the benefits in a near future. If we can introduce our methods all over South- and Central America. Investigating, managing and working with the “Jewels of the Rainforest” (Walls 1994) for more than three decades was never boring. Lots of new discoveries published in our papers and book series show this. Let us therefore join all efforts to save the Dendrobatids!

Back to D. imitator

Literature Cited:

BOULENGER, G.A. (1883):
On a Collection of Frogs from Yurimaguas, Huallaga River, Northern Peru.
Proc. Zool. Soc. London, 1883 (4): 635-638, pl. 2.  RETURN

CALDWELL, J.P. (1993):
Brazil nut fruit capsules as phytotelmata: interactions among anuran and insect larvae.
Can.J.Zool. 71:1193-1201 RETURN

CALDWELL, J.P. & ARAUJO, M.C. (1998):
Cannibalistic Interactions Resulting from Indiscriminate Predatory Behaviour in Tadpoles of Poison Frogs (Anura: Dendrobatidae).
BIOTROPICA 30 (1): 92- 103 RETURN

LONGCORE, J.E., PESSIER, A.P. & NICHOLS, D.K. (1999):
Bartachochytrium dendrobatitis
gen. et. spe. nov., a Chytrid Pathogenic to Amphibians.
Mycologia, 91(2), pp. 219-227. RETURN

SCHULTE, R. (1980/84):
Frösche und Kröten
ULMER VERLAG, Stuttgart Hohenheim, 240 pp., color plates and drawings. RETURN

SCHULTE, R. (1999):
Pfeilgiftfrösche – Artenteil PERU (Vol. 2)
INIBICO- Germany, Waiblingen, 292 pp, 108 color plates and drawings. RETURN
(Inibico-hauck@t-online.de)

SCHULTE, R. (in press)
Poison Dart Frogs Series
Vol. 1: General Data PERU
600 pp, 120 color plates, drawings, maps. RETURN
Inibico@telematic.com.pe

SCHULTE, R. (in press):
Manual de Manejo de Ranas Venenosas (Dendrobates imitator, D. variabilis, D. fantasticus Anura: Dendrobatidae) en Bosques de Protección mediante el método ZIRA.
inibico@telematic.com.pe, 50 pp, 20 color plates and drawings.  RETURN

SCHULTE, R. (1990):
Redescubrimiento y Redefinción de Dendrobates mysteriosus MYERS 1982 de la Cordillera del Condor.
Boletín de Lima, No. 70, pp.57-68.  RETURN

SCHULTE, R. (1997 A):
Marco del Manejo de la Herpetofauna Amazónica: Exportación, Extinción y Control Biológico de Plagas.
Pp. 199-202
In: Manejo de Fauna Silvestre en la Amazonía, 334 pp.
Eds.: Tula G. Fang, Richard Bodmer, Rolando Aquino, Michael H. Valqui.
UNAP/ University of Florida/UNDP/GEF/Instituto de Ecología, Bolivia. RETURN

SCHULTE, R. (1997 B):
Zoocriaderos de la Herpetofauna: su Problemática.
Pp. 203-206
In: Manejo de Fauna Silvestre en la Amazonía, 334 pp.
Eds.: Tula G. Fang, Richard Bodmer, Rolando Aquino, Michael H. Valqui.
UNAP/ University of Florida/UNDP/GEF/Instituto de Ecología, Bolivia. RETURN

WALLS, J.G. (1994):
Jewels of the Rainforest. Poison Frogs of the Family Dendrobatidae.
TFH Publications, Neptune City, N.Y., 288 pp., color plates.        RETURN

ZIMMERMANN, H. & Z., E. (1988):
Etho- Taxonomie und zoogeographische Artengruppenbildung bei Pfeilgiftfröschen
(Anura:Dendrobatidae)
SALAMANDRA Vol. 24, No. 2/3, pp. 125-160. RETURN

Giant Weta Rehomed: The Living Dinosaurs

Living Dinosaurs Giant Weta

Giant Weta Background

Another of New Zealand’s ‘living dinosaurs’, the giant weta, has returned to the mainland after a century of extinction and survival only on predator-free islands.

One of the world’s heaviest insects, growing to the size of a mouse, the Cook Strait giant weta (Deinacrida rugosa) is the 15th native species to find a protected home in Wellington’s Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

On 11 February the first contingent of the spiky, scary, but gentle relatives of the more aggressive common wetas. Everyone hates to find them in their gumboots. They are brought from Matiu-Somes Island in the harbour to the refuge, but local Maori welcome them.

New Zealand Giant Weta No Fear! Ben Gordon of Wellington gets down into the forest with one of the just-released giant weta being re-introduced to the mainland in Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the first attempt to bring back the gentle giants that predators banished to safe islands 100 years ago.

After blessing up to a hundred of the creatures – keeping them in cardboard cat boxes – Kaumatua Ken Jackson said, “It is a wonderful feeling to have our brothers and sisters from the forest, these wonderful animals of the forest, back here with us.”

Rehoming Process

Wellington Central MP Marian Hobbs, a former environment and biosecurity minister, also welcomed the weta, but with a bit less personal enthusiasm. Ms Hobbs is famous to have an aversion to creepy-crawlies.

She seemed relieved the critters would not only be safe inside the predator-proof fence around the world-first sanctuary. A leader in not just preservation but wildlife restoration, even though they would also be locked IN.

“I’m happy to welcome you here,” she said. “I love you dearly, but my welcome does not extend to my own home.”

Ms Hobbs was happy to watch the release but was not going to volunteer to actually handle the beast, she said with a bit of a shudder. Little did she know…

Research details

This is the first attempt to re-establish the species since its decimation on the main islands a hundred years ago by introduced predators. It is the first of four transfers of up to 450 wetas over four years. They are all from Matiu-Somes and Mana Islands.

These species are usually at around 70mm long, and weighing up to 27g. Their mouse-size makes them one of the world’s heaviest, and, for many, the stuff of nightmares. But Deinacrida rugosa are gentle giants – non-biting herbivores far less ferocious than the smaller tree weta which bites.

“The giant weta is a living icon of New Zealand,” said Sanctuary head Nancy McIntosh-Ward. “They have been around for over 190 million years and are as unique to our landscape as kiwi and tuatara.” The sanctuary recently had a release of tuatara there. This can look like basking in the sun along the footpath on which carrying the Wetas to their new homes.

Twenty giant wetas have radios to monitor their movements, a first use of transmitters to track weta as part of a species transfer. The weta should breed, and indeed a pair was discovered mating already before their release. Males and females were released near each other in widely spaced locations.

Wetas get their name from Wetapunga – the Maori god of ugly things. There are 11 species of giant weta found in NZ, and Deinacrida rugosa is by no means the largest. A giant weta was found on Little Barrier Island and the weight of it at over 70g.

Members of this family are also found in South Africa, Australia and South America. But our weta is by far the largest and most diverse. The weta has over 70 species, and new species are still under research.

Giant Weta New Zealand

Release
Ms Hobbs and the other dignitaries trudged up the paths carrying their cat-boxes of wetas. The releases slowly began, with Ms Hobbs continuing to keep her distance. But something strange happened; perhaps the urgings of the pack of photographers and cameramen. However, Ms Hobbs suddenly found herself with a double-handful of giant female weta.

As she quickly knelt to release it, she had to hold it for the cameras far longer than she wished. But finally, her grimace turned to a smile that seemed genuine, and not just for the cameras.