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The Puerto Rican crested toadOnce thought extinct, now recovering
by Carlos Pacheco
Photo Credit: Carlos Pacheco, USFWS
The federally threatened Puerto Rican crested toad (Peltophryne lemur) has experienced a dramatic reversal of fortunes, thanks in part to a captive breeding and release program. In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), in partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, released more than 71,000 tadpoles and 520 toadlets of the rare toad at three sites across Puerto Rico's northern and southern karst—a record-breaking number of tadpoles released within a single year.
The Puerto Rican crested toad, known locally as "sapo concho puertorriqueño," is the only native toad of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Historically, the toad was found along the northern and southern karst belt in Puerto Rico and on the Island of Virgin Gorda in British Virgin Islands. At one time, the toad was believed to be extinct in Puerto Rico until it was rediscovered in the municipality of Isabela in 1966. The species was found again within the Guánica Commonwealth Forest in 1984.
For two decades, the Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, local organizations, universities, community groups, and volunteers have worked together to search for wild toad populations, improve the quality of habitat and breeding ponds, and encourage the conservation and enhancement of the toad's habitat on privately owned lands. Other cooperative projects have included removing predators from breeding ponds and adjacent habitat, evaluating new reintroduction sites, designing and constructing rearing and breeding ponds, and releasing of captive-bred tadpoles.
The American Association of Zoos and Aquariums manages the captive breeding program, which has grown significantly since it first started. The captive crested toad population has increased from 300 toads to over 600 toads across 31 participating zoological institutions in the U.S. and Canada, and more than 260,000 tadpoles have been released into Puerto Rico's wild over the past 20 years. The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources manages lands under its jurisdiction to help ensure the survival of these released toads.
Prospects for the crested toad have improved with these conservation efforts. Not only is the toad returning to areas where it had once disappeared, but biologists have also recently discovered two natural populations in the southern karst of Puerto Rico. To help ensure this momentum is carried forward, the Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2013. This agreement created a management strategy to help fulfill the goals of the crested toad's recovery plan and promote partnerships with stakeholders to maximize recovery efforts.
Carlos Pacheco, a fish and biologist in the Service's Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-851-7297.
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