Several hundred rare tadpoles are now swimming freely in the wetlands of Gunnison National Forest thanks to the conservation efforts of biologists in Colorado.
Last year, 95 boreal toads were taken from a Colorado restoration facility in hopes of breeding them.
Experts from the Denver Zoo spent six months preparing and nurturing them for a summer release.
In late June, teams from the Denver Zoo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife trekked to a remote site more than 7,000 feet in elevation in the Southern Rocky Mountains. They introduced 570 tadpoles into Gunnison National Forest wetlands.
"The boreal toad is a really unique amphibian," said Daniel Cammack, Southwest Region Native Aquatic Species Biologist with CPW. "We are up at 11,500 feet at timberline practically, and they are gutting out these big winters covered by snow. They are an integral part of the landscape and were ubiquitous once in Colorado in this habitat. With chytrid fungus now being the primary cause of decline, we don't have that many populations of boreal toads remaining. For us to get something else going is really important."
The tadpoles will eventually grow to become toads with the hope that the toads will eventually host an established population of rare amphibians.
"It was a very special day to join our partners from Denver Zoo to release boreal toad tadpoles that the Zoo produced at their facility," Cammack said. "We've been stocking tadpoles at this site for about five years now, and we have high hopes that the tadpoles we introduced will contribute to a self-sustaining breeding population. It's a pretty big win for boreal toad conservation."
The amphibian species were considered endangered after experiencing dramatic population decline over the past two decades. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says that the decline is due to a fungus infection that causes a disease with a very high mortality rate. Officials estimate there may be as few as 800 wild adult boreal toads left in Colorado.
"This was the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and planning by our partners at Colorado Parks and Wildlife and members of our animal care and field conservation teams," said Erica Elvove, Senior Vice President for Conservation Engagement and Impact at Denver Zoo. "Boreal toads face an extremely uncertain future in Colorado and have a good chance of going extinct without human intervention. We're committed to continuing this effort with CPW for many years to come and doing our part to make sure the species remains part of Colorado's ecosystem for future generations."
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