Paignton Zoo Environmental Park has successfully bred a rare South American frog by “hoodwinking” it using old film canisters and borrowed leaves.
The Sira poison dart frog (Ranitomeya sirensis) is a species notoriously difficult to breed and rear successfully in zoological collections due to the delicate nature of its eggs and tadpoles.
Keepers recreated the natural habitat of this species, which breeds in bamboo stands and lays its eggs in the leaf litter. They used old 35mm film canisters laid on their side to simulate fallen bamboo and scattered bamboo leaf litter on the floor of the exhibit to recreate the natural environment.
Luckily, keeper Andy Meek is a keen photographer who still uses film instead of digital cameras. The Paignton Zoo gardens department supplied the leaves.
Although currently at a low level on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, this frog shows alarming signs of decline due to pressures on its habitat and collection for the illegal pet trade.
Amphibian keeper Dr Katy Upton said: “It’s fantastic to have another breeding success here at Paignton Zoo. Our state of the art Amphibian Ark facility means we can keep these animals under optimal environmental conditions and have the chance to document and study key aspects of their life stages including breeding.
“Understanding how to breed these species in zoos can help to relieve the pressure on the wild population and inform future conservation actions. Breeding this species has been a real challenge - it is extremely difficult to sex the adults, as there are no obvious differences between the males and females. Males call, but stop as soon as you walk towards their exhibit!
“We noticed one of the – possible - males regularly climbing into the leaf litter at a certain point and sitting there for long periods of time. We decided to search this site and found a clutch of fertile eggs. We are really proud of our success!”
The Sira poison dart frog is found in the Amazonian rainforests of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru. It is mildly toxic, but loses its poison in captivity, most likely due to not having a specific toxic insect or invertebrate in its diet. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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