SANTIAGO: A clutch of critically-endangered water frogs rescued from a muddy puddle in Chile’s driest desert has birthed 200 offspring at the country’s national zoo, the Chilean government announced on Wednesday (Oct 21).
The Loa water frogs, a tiny and beguiling dark-spotted amphibian also known as Telmatobius dankoi, mated between Oct 11 and Oct 12.
Those couplings produced 200 offspring now in varying stages of growth under the watchful eyes of scientists at the capital Santiago`s National Zoo.
The frogs are native to a stream outside Calama, a fast-growing northern mining city of 180,000, but amid intensive industrial activity and development the river became polluted and dried up.
Last year local scientists backed by a team from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recovered just 14 survivors and airlifted them to Santiago.
The rescue effort attracted international interest including from the Hollywood actor Leonardo Di Caprio who tweeted his congratulations.
The frogs were treated for malnourishment and dehydration, while scientists set about trying to recreate the exact conditions of their native habitat.
Andres Charrier, from the Chilean Herpetology Network, said their chances of survival had been slim. "The truth is that I didn't even know if these animals were going to survive the plane trip,” he said.
Instead, 12 of the original 14 rallied, and this week provided fresh hope for the survival of their species.
Felipe Ward, the Chilean housing minister responsible for the national zoo, has been a regular visitor to check on the rescued frogs' progress.
He hailed the new arrivals as "an important step that reinforces our commitment to the protection of native fauna."
At least 63 known species of water frogs live across Latin America. Conservationists say the environmentally-sensitive creatures act as a canary in the coal mine for the potential plight of humans amid dwindling regional water resources.
Gabriel Lobos, a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Calama, said the principal challenge is now the restoration of the frog`s habitat to allow their return to the wild.