Scientists in plans to save endangered Taita frog

Scientists and communities in Taita Taveta county are working towards saving rare and critically endangered frogs only found in Taita Hills forests.

The Taita warty frog, found only in Kenya, thrives within the highly fragmented montane region.

Unlike other frogs, the Taita Hills warty frog does not go through a tadpole stage. Once it lays eggs, it skips the tadpole stage and directly hatches the eggs into small frogs.

Local conservationists and researchers have been putting in efforts to map the frogs' distribution and raising awareness in efforts to save them.

The Taita warty frog is endemic to Kenya, where it is found only in the severely fragmented montane forests in Taita Hills. [Courtesy: Edge of Existence Organisation]

Recently, a team of researchers, including those drawn from the Kenya Herpetofauna Working Group (KHWG), conducted searches and surveys to understand the distribution of the rare frog species in Ngangao, Ndivenyi, Chawia, and Fururru forest blocks.

“In January, we conducted surveys as citizen scientists, together with the researchers, and managed to record a number of the rare frogs,” said John Maganga, a member of Dawida Biodiversity Conservation.

The Taita Hills warty frog, unlike most frogs, prefers walking to jumping, an attribute that makes it unique.

The frog's population is declining and is currently classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation and Nature Redlist.

According to the IUCN Redlist, the declining habitat is the biggest threat facing the species.

“The biggest challenge we have raised as local conservationists is the dominating exotic trees like eucalyptus in areas once filled with indigenous trees. While most rare species only found in Taita Hills forests once thrived in indigenous forests, they cannot thrive in exotic forests,” said Honorina Wache, a member of Iyale Angamiza Jangwa, a site support group for Nature Kenya.

The Taita Hills is a designated Key Biodiversity Area for the frog species.

Research on the Taita Warty frog reveals that the population is severely fragmented, with over 50 per cent of the population scattered between isolated forest patches.

However, with the forest degradation, the frog's existence hangs in the balance.

Over the years, scientific evidence has indicated that the Taita Hills warty frog thrives on the indigenous forest floor and spends much of its time in soil or leaf litter.

In raising awareness of the dangers the frogs face from clearing their indigenous habitat, local conservationists under the Dawida Biodiversity Conservation (Dabico) community-based organisation have been educating locals, including learners in schools. “We try to sensitise the local communities," said Nathaniel Mkombola, Dabico chairman.