Even before the earthquake a year ago that killed at least 220,000 people, Haiti was an ecological nightmare. Large-scale deforestation has left less than 2% of the original forest cover standing—a fact that is starkly apparent when flying between Haiti and its neighboring country the Dominican Republic, which has conserved far more of its forests. The cloud forests of the southwest mountains, home to some of the country’s last remaining untouched ecology, are under threat. Biologists have warned that Haiti’s wildlife may be facing a mass extinction—and that the island country’s many colorful species of amphibians may be particularly vulnerable, as Blair Hedges of Penn State University said in November:
During the next few decades, many Haitian species of plants and animals will become extinct because the forests where they live, which originally covered the entire country, are nearly gone. The decline of frogs in particular, because they are especially vulnerable, is a biological early warning signal of a dangerously deteriorating environment. When frogs start disappearing, other species will follow and the Haitian people will suffer, as well, from this environmental catastrophe.
But while the people of Haiti are sadly still struggling to get back on their feet, there is surprising good news on the country’s environment. Hedges and Conservation International amphibian conservation specialist Robin Moore took a trip to Haiti in October, searching for one frog: the long-lost La Selle Grass frog, which hasn’t been seen in more than a quarter-century. Along the way, Hedges and Moore were going to assess the status of Haiti’s nearly 50 native species of amphibians. Though they failed to find the La Selle Grass frog, they did find six other species of amphibians that had not been seen in nearly two decades. More than that, though, they dispelled the idea that there is nothing worth saving left in Haiti, as Moore said in a statement:
It was incredible. We went looking for one missing species and found a treasure trove of others. That, to me, represents a welcome dose of resilience and hope for the people and wildlife of Haiti.
The mission was part of CI’s global search for “lost frogs,” an effort launched in the summer of 2010 to find frogs which feared to be extinct. (Amphibians seem to be disappearing at a much faster rate than other species, making them an early warning sign in the next great extinction wave.) Of course, in the midst of all of Haiti’s human misery, the fate of the country’s frogs likely isn’t very high up on the agenda. But they’re still worth saving—and the fact that even missing frogs can be found does provide a rare moment of optimism.
The Found Frogs: