Calgary Zoo starts breeding endangered leopard frogs

The Calgary Zoo is planning to start breeding northern leopard frogs, an endangered species with only one native population still existing in the wild.

Creston Valley, B.C., is home to the only surviving native population left in the wild

The B.C. northern leopard frog is designated as an endangered species. (Calgary Zoo)

The Calgary Zoo is planning to start breeding B.C. northern leopard frogs, an endangered species with only one native population still in the wild.

The goal is to have the frogs breeding naturally and producing offspring to be released in the wild by 2019.

There have been a few efforts to recover the species, which is genetically distinct from other northern leopard frogs.

But despite that work, the frogs live in the wild only in the Creston Valley, B.C. They're under threat there from disease, road mortality and habitat loss.

'There is something terribly wrong'

The abundance and health of the frogs indicate the health of wetlands, the zoo noted in a release issued Tuesday.

"When the population of the leopard frog declines, there is something terrible wrong in the ecosystem, and other living things in the habitat are in jeopardy," the statement said.

Half of Canada's wildlife species are in decline — and populations are shrinking faster than ever, a new report by the World Wildlife Fund Canada found last week. Scientists have since criticized the federal government for failing to enforce and adequately fund its own conservation laws.

The Calgary Zoo hopes to release to the wild the offspring from its indoor breeding ground. (Calgary Zoo)

The B.C. northern leopard frog is designated endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Its populations plummeted in the 1970s and 1980s, in part due to pesticides in the water and wetlands being drained, zoo population ecologist Lea Randall said at Tuesday's launch.

The Calgary Zoo has been researching the species for almost 15 years to help conservation efforts. Its breeding program is the second in the country.

Lea Randall is a population ecologist with the Calgary Zoo. (Radio-Canada)

Some other breeding initiatives have had challenges, Randall said.

"One thing I think will make it more successful is we've really tried to make an effort to replicate more natural environments," she said. 

"My thinking is if you have happy and healthy frogs, they're more likely to breed and then we can have a better contribution to reintroducing in the wild."

The other breeding ground is at the Vancouver Aquarium, which has provided frogs to start the one in Calgary.

Tadpoles and eggs from the wild will be added over the years to the breeding ground, an indoor, self-contained ecosystem, in order to maintain genetic diversity.