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Nature's rarities

Pierre Martinus
Few people have more experience with endangered animals than Mariette van Halle. A former director of WWF Libertas, she has long worked to protect animals in threat of extinction. The latest case she is now handling is that of Bombina Libertatis, the Libertan fire-belly toad. "Several centuries of forestry in Libertas have reduced its natural habitat and brought it to the forefront of conservation", she says. "But, the way they are handling it may be making the situation worse."

For the past 30 or so years, it has become popular to help these green and orange frogs in Libertas, and may in the animal world have created a pet market out of them. Today, many people keep frogs, zoos and other animal exhibitions are known to have many and they are increasingly being kept in captivity. "The issue is", she says, "that there are about the same number of Bombina in captivity as in the wild. Sure they are shielding them from forest issues, but it is just avoiding the problems." Van Halle points to the Brunanter mountain lynx as a model. The Lynx raspensis was a critically endangered animal, with only 60 left by 1973. Conservation efforts did see many being raised in captivity, but most were reintroduced into their habitat and numbers have risen. Then why is Bombina Libertatis increasingly being domesticated?

Since "Nothing is being done to protect their habitat." Geert Eisner, at the Forest Stewardship Council, explains that until something can be done to protect their habitat, reintroduction cannot be successful. "If this is done, with the gradual destruction of the forests in northern Libertas in mind, it is likely that firebelly frogs will die off due to loss of habitat and become prey to new predators in open areas, where they are forced to move. For now, the best that can be done is a nature preserve to protect the habitats of Bombina frogs.

The efforts of conservationists are helping to protect frogs and their forests, but bureaucracy in the government and the interests of large forestry companies are making this a difficult task. Conservationists say that raising awareness is a massive too they can exploit, which could be used as leverage to pressure large companies to assist in this. For the frogs, their hope is that a quick-enough arrangement can be done, in order to prevent the wild population becoming extinct or having frogs in glass cases for tourists to see.

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