2008 declared Year of Frog to save amphibians

LONDON (Reuters) - Conservationists from around the world have declared 2008 the Year of the Frog to highlight their new campaign to save threatened amphibians from extinction.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) said on Friday that up to half of amphibian species could be wiped out in coming years through habitat loss and climate change -- the biggest mass extinction since dinosaurs disappeared.

“It’s imperative that the world zoo and aquarium community plays an active role in working to save the planet’s critically endangered amphibian species,” said WAZA president Karen Sausman following the decision at a meeting in Budapest.

As part of the campaign, which needs to raise up to $60 million in funding, WAZA also set up a petition calling on all governments to take action to beat the amphibian crisis and agreed to an Amphibian Ark captive breeding programme.

“It’s both our obligation and our privilege to help these glorious animals. We invite all people around the world to help amphibians survive by signing our global petition and contributing to fund this initiative,” Sausman added.

The programme will bring priority amphibian species into dedicated facilities at zoos, aquariums, and other institutions around the world for safekeeping and breeding.

The creatures will be released back into the wild when the original threats have been controlled.

WAZA, founded in 1946, is the umbrella organisation for 237 major zoos and aquariums as well as 24 regional or national federations representing a further 1,100 zoos and aquariums.

IUCN, the World Conservation Union, which is taking part in the Amphibian Ark programme, said 1,856 of the 5,743 known amphibian species were threatened with extinction.

WAZA, which hopes its petition will be signed by the millions of people who visit zoos and aquariums each year, appointed world renowned British naturalist David Attenborough as patron of the Year of the Frog.

“Without an immediate and sustained conservation effort to support captive management, hundreds of species of these wonderful creatures could become extinct in our own lifetime,” he said.

“But implementation calls for financial and political support from all parts of the world.”