Environment / Cautious Optimism From a Rare Resurrection

The Hula painted frog, thought to be extinct, makes an unexpected reappearance.

Every November, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature publishes its Red List of animal and plant species in danger of extinction.

The latest report was bleaker than ever. The IUCN noted that nearly 24,000 species known to nature could disappear in the coming years. This marks an increase of tens of percent over the previous report. Sixty-four more species, said the report, have become extinct in the wild, though a few specimens still live in captivity, while 801 species were reported to have become completely extinct. Most researchers believe this is just the tip of the iceberg and that an unknown number of species that were never documented are becoming extinct daily at a pace that has only been increasing over the past couple of decades. According to some assessments, the extinction rate of species is 100 to 1,000 times faster than it would be without the impact of human beings.

But just five days after the gloomy report’s publication, zoologists were suddenly brimming with a very cautious optimism. Yoram Malka, an enterprising warden with the Nature Reserves Authority, identified and captured a single Hula painted frog that was hopping about in the swamp grass at the Hula Nature Reserve. The little frog hadn’t been seen in this region since the Hula swamp was drained in the late 1950s, and it had been classified as extinct for close to 20 years. Two weeks later, in the same area, Malka captured another Hula painted frog.

It is still impossible to estimate the number and species strength of these exceedingly rare frogs. Right now they are classified as seriously endangered. The Nature Reserves Authority is hoping that more specimens will be found in the coming months so that more data can be collected. This would then be used to try to increase their number and potentially move the species off the endangered list.

It is not very often, to put it mildly, that a living creature gets a second chance like this.

Only a few animals that were classified as extinct decades ago have reappeared, apparently risen from the dead. A few more such comebacks have been documented in the world over the past year. Most were identified by special research teams that set out to find and document endangered frogs and toads around the world. Thus was the spectacular rainbow toad of Borneo rediscovered after an absence of 87 years. A research team from Malaysia caught three specimens in a remote forest near the Indonesia border. In India, five species of frogs that were generally thought to be extinct were found; one of them hadn’t been seen by researchers for 136 years. Other frogs were found in Indonesia and Tahiti.

The energetic searches for extinct frogs also led to the rediscovery of the red-crested tree rat. Two volunteers in a search team in the Eldorado Bird Reserve in Colombia happened upon the small rodent as they were busy setting up camp for the night in the middle of the forest. The rat hadn’t been seen in 113 years; all that had been preserved of it were two shabby pelts at New York’s Museum of Natural History. “The whole episode is slightly surreal,” Paul Salaman, head of the American conservation organization that financed the Colombia expedition told USA Today. “The rat climbed up the banister and walked up to them and sat there for two hours. It’s almost as if it were trying to show it had survived.”