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Biodiversity Center opens at Oakland Zoo

on September 4, 2013

The Oakland Zoo opened a new center dedicated to conserving the rich variety of wildlife in California and beyond. California is the second most biodiverse state, next to Hawaii.

The Biodiversity Center will house threatened and endangered species of reptiles and amphibians for captive breeding, with the goal of  releasing them into the wild. The idea is to give a boost to populations pushed to the brink of extinction by disease and invasive species.

Grown frogs will be released in select sites of the Sierras after receiving a treatment for the chytrid fungus, a fatal infection attacking the skin that has decimated frog populations worldwide. Toad tadpoles will be shipped to Puerto Rico for release in a national park.

With more than 1,000 endangered and critically endangered amphibian species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the earth is facing a global amphibian collapse which could have untold consequences for humans and nature, said Dr. Joel Parrott, Oakland Zoo’s president and CEO.

“At first, I thought ‘All this for frogs?’” Parrott said.. “(But when) you talk about the global collapse, (conservation work) takes on a tremendous amount of gravity.”

While the Biodiversity Center is not open to the public, the building’s education wing will be available to classroom field trips and special group tours.

The Oakland Zoo decided to partner with local researchers on conserving the yellow-legged frog and Puerto Rican crested toad after the Association of Zoos and Aquariums called on zoos worldwide to participate in conservation efforts focused on staving off the global amphibian collapse.

The zoo’s conservation efforts will focus mainly on local species such as the California condor, mountain lions and the yellow-legged frog, found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

While not local, the Puerto Rican crested toad is found in only two areas and is critically endangered. “If we’re called upon to protect any creature, we will,” Parrott said.

The Biodiversity Center will also continue the Oakland Zoo’s work with western pond turtles. This species of turtle is threatened with competition for space with the invasive red-eared slider.

Zoo staff will hatch turtles in captivity and nurture them in tanks for a year in a process called “head starting.” After one year in captivity, the turtles can grow to the size of three- to four-year-olds. No longer small enough to be eaten by bullfrogs, they can be released.

The animals that arrive at the Biodiversity Center next month will be kept in quarantine under carefully controlled conditions to simulate natural light cycles and water temperatures.

Frogs and toads, for example, must be kept cold enough during the winter to induce hibernation. In springtime, the water temperature will be warmer, but still chilly enough for the amphibians to breed. Even the plants in the tank are artificial to prevent contamination.

Alessandra Phelan-Roberts, the zoo’s creek and garden programs manager, said she hopes the center will inspire students to “get excited about the species we have in our own backyards. Knowledge breeds compassion.”

“Zoos should not just be a great place to take your kids,” Parrott said. “They have to be a storefront for what’s in the wild.”


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