August 27, 2015

By Mark Wanner
Zoological Manager, Herpetology

While hundreds of thousands of people living south of the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, could be at immediate risk from an eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano, conservationists are also scrambling to save highly endangered wildlife there. Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador's most active volcanoes and, at 19,347 feet, is Ecuador’s second-highest peak. As the volcano shoots ash into the air, people leave their homes for fear that fast-moving mud, rock and water flows will inundate them if a volcanic eruption melts the ice cap covering Cotopaxi’s peak. 

Also, in the path of those flows is Centro Jambatu for Research and Conservation of Amphibians (Otonga Foundation) based in Quito. Our concern is the complete loss of a number of species that Centro Jambatu has gathered to breed and protect at its research center. At stake is the loss of assurance colonies of frogs that have taken years to assemble and protect—they have become the last hope for many unique amphibian species.

The Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute has long supported the work of Luis Coloma, Ph.D., who directs Centro Jambatu. For several years, I have worked in Ecuador with Dr. Coloma and his staff to collect endangered frog species, which like amphibians around the world, are threatened by amphibian chrytrid fungus (a disease killing massive numbers of amphibians), the effects of climate change and most importantly habitat loss. 

The WildCare Institute is sending funds to help the research center move as many species as possible to higher ground where they can be safe.