RESEARCH REPORT FOR THE MISSING ENDEMIC FROGS OF THE EASTERN HIGHLANDS
REGION 0F ZIMBABWE – DECEMBER 1ST TO December 9th 2016
The search was conducted under the direction of R.Hopkins (Research associate Natural History Museum, Bulawayo.)
Team members: F.Becker, (MSc Cape Town University): S.J.Scott BSc Rhodes University:: Guide and member of the MATSETO Sports and Conservation Club: Fungayi Marema : Guide and Member of the Matseko Sports and Conservation Club. T.Blessing Makanidzani and Johnston Masunda of the Matsko Sport and Conservation Club
This report is confined to the search and capture of Arthroleptis troglodytes. Amietia inyangae has been classified as extinct by Professor A.Channing, after an extensive search during 2016. Strongylopus rhodesianus has been located and is abundant, and breeding freely in the Chimanimani area.
A troglodytes (Cave or sinkhole squeaker) is known only from the Western Chimanimani Mountains, and was located in 1962 at an attitude above 1500meters, no new material has been collected since the initial sixteen specimens taken in 1962. Described by Professor Poynton in 1963. This species has not been seen since 1962 (54 years). Various subsequent surveys and searches have been conducted at yearly periods post the Independence war.
Arthroleptis troglodytes was considered to be the prime target species. It was described as a small (maximum 27mm) Arthroleptid, it is a direct breeder, meaning it does not have a tadpole phase, the young develop in the egg, and hatch as fully formed frogs. The type series was collected in 1962 (Poynton 1963); none have been seen or collected since. Only 16 specimens are in collections, these were collected mostly from sink holes and caves on the summit of Mount Chimanimani in or near the Bundi River. The micro habitats consisted mainly of caves, sink holes and under rocks in grassland, and at an altitude of 1500meters and above. It is extremely localised in distribution, and as gold panning and human activities are increasing daily, along the Bundi river valley, it was considered to be extinct in the wilds or near extinct, and was listed in the as critically endangered (B1ab(v) + 2ab(v) (Poynton and Channing 2004. At a meeting of Herpetologist in Cape Town in November 2015 ( I was a member of this meeting);it was prioritised as one of the top ten southern African species in need of conservation research (Amphibian Ark) 2016) and it’s rediscovery must be considered as a high priority, and to breed this species ex-situ must be considered as extremely important. This decision was based on my input, I had said that I had been looking for this species since 1998, without success, but wanted to try again at the end of 2016. This was agreed, I approached the Mohamed bin Zayed fund for conservation for funds, as I wanted to include a Mr François Becker, a M.Sc. student at the University of Cape Town to join my team as he was young, and extremely field knowledgable. He had also approached me and requested to be included in a search in December 2016. I applied for a grant and the fund allowed this. Mr S.J Herbst also remained a member of team, he is a B.Sc. (entomology; Rhodes University) and a Zimbabwean citizen (please see photographs of the team attached).
All members were gathered and transported to Chimanimani in my vehicle, we arrived there on the 1st December 2016, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the National Parks Office had been moved to a new location, better suited to an important office like Chimanimani. As per usual we were well received by the personnel in the office the team comprised Zimbabweans and a South African.
On the 2nd of December 2016 the Team who had now included members of Conservation clubs, and who acted as guides were suitably kitted, with full rations and left at 0900hrs for the summit. I remained in Chimanimani, as I have been diagnosed with cancer. At 1730hrs I received a call from a very excited François Becker saying he had located an Arthroleptis troglodytes. It was great surprise and release after all these years. The team remained on the summit gathering data, and also examining the locations. As a result we were able to locate three male and one female (gravid) specimens. These were photographed. These photographs (please see attached) are the only photographs of these frogs in the world, and belong to the people of Zimbabwe, and to National Parks in particular. DNA clippings were taken, and these will be sent to Professor Alan Channing of the University of Stellenbosch in the cape for analysis… A great deal of data was gathered, and most interesting of all, is that I am able to state that this species is alive and well on the summit of Chimanimani, and is breeding well, there seems to be a very viable population. My greatest concern now is that the scientific world will flood in to capture and illegally export specimens from Chimanimani, and I ask the National Parks to be vigilant to this threat. I have requested members at Outward Bound School to assist and they have readily agreed to do this. I will be approaching the Mohamed bin Zayed Conservation fund to assist in possibly funds to assist an operation to conserve Arthroleptis troglodytes, National Parks may want to inform me what they would require for this operation. I can only ask the fund, but cannot guarantee their financial help. I t would not be correct of me not to mention the personnel of National Parks, the Mohamed bin Zayed conservation fund, the staff at Outward Bound, and the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo, for their assistance.