Frogs: A Love Story

  • A Wyoming toadlet at the Detroit Zoo. (Photo by Danna Schock, National Amphibian Conservation Center)

There are thousands of kinds of frogs and toads that could go extinct
in our lifetime. Rebecca Williams reports zoos are trying to save the
most endangered frogs by playing matchmaker:


There are thousands of kinds of frogs and toads that could go extinct
in our lifetime. Rebecca Williams reports zoos are trying to save the
most endangered frogs by playing matchmaker:

“Okay, so we’re in our Panamanian golden frog room.”

This is the frog bachelor pad.

(slow music)

The lights are low. One of the girls
is sitting naked under the waterfall. And in a dark corner of an
aquarium, there’s some action.

“Well, the male has clasped onto the female around the back…”

Danna Schock is like Dr. Ruth for frogs. She’s the curator of frogs
and toads at the Detroit Zoo. Right now she’s trying to get these
little yellow and black frogs in the mood.

“They were just put together a couple days ago, we’re not sure
they’re feeling it yet. I don’t know if we need Barry White music in
here or what.”

(Barry White song)

Getting the mood right matters because frogs are sensitive. The
temperature has to be just right. Sometimes what the male wants is
just not what the female wants.

Danna Schock wants these guys to have lots of babies. That’s because
frogs are in big trouble in the wild. They’re disappearing really,
really fast.

“The extinction going on is really of the scale that happened
at the end of the Cretaceous when the dinosaurs went. But that
extinction happened over a million years. We’re seeing some of this go
down in my lifetime. This is unprecedented.”

As much as half of all amphibian species on Earth could go extinct in
our lifetime. Here’s why. Frogs and toads breathe and drink through
their skin. Those thin skins make them very sensitive to pollution
from farms and industry and whatever we put down the drain. Also, the
places frogs live are being paved over for parking lots and

Then there’s another really big problem. There’s a disease
sweeping through frogs around the world. It’s called chytrid fungus.
It can kill frogs in just a few weeks.

Kevin Zippel is the program director for Amphibian Ark. It’s kind of
like Noah’s Ark for frogs. It’s a group working with zoos to save the
frogs and toads that are most at risk. Especially the ones dying from
chytrid fungus.

“The only solution for those species that are susceptible is to bring
them into captivity as a stop-gap measure until the day when we do have
a cure for it.”

Zippel says chytrid fungus was first found in the 1930s in the African
clawed frog. That frog was exported around the world for medical
research. And scientists think the disease was spread with it.

Kevin Zippel says they’re scrambling to bring frogs into zoos before
they’re wiped out. He says it’s always much better for frogs to live
in the wild. But he says, for hundreds of frog species, taking them
into zoos is the only way to keep them alive.

The Wyoming toad is one species that’s been saved by zoos. For all
practical purposes, it’s considered extinct in the wild. Zoos around
the country have taken in the toads and gotten them to mate.

(Sound of tanks bubbling)

At the Detroit Zoo there’s a special quarantine room. It’s under lock
and key. We have to disinfect our shoes so we don’t track in bacteria
or other diseases.

Then Danna Schock lets us peek in on her
babies. These Wyoming toadlets are about the size of gumballs.

“These guys are fabulous little creatures. These are not divas.
They’re just such a pleasure to work with, they’re fun, they eat well.
There are just little Buddha bellies on ’em.”

These little Wyoming toads have big lives ahead of them. A lot of sex.
And their babies might get released back to the same place where they
got their name – Wyoming.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been releasing toad eggs and
tadpoles in a few protected areas there.

Brian Kelly is with the Service. Last summer, for the first time in 10
years, his team found new Wyoming toad eggs in the wild.

“It’s incredibly encouraging because that’s why we’re doing this, we
want to establish populations that maintain themselves and remain
viable over time.”

Kelly says the toads are still in trouble. Their habitat has to be
protected. And the fatal chytrid fungus is still a major threat. So
zoos will have to fill the gap for a while.

It’s not ideal. It costs a lot to keep frogs at the zoo. There isn’t
enough room in zoos to save every type of frog. And, as Danna Schock at
the Detroit Zoo will tell you, it’s tough to figure out exactly what
the frogs want. But she says she’s not going to give up.

“I’d rather go down flailing in flames. At least we can say we tried.
And there are reasons to be optimistic. We have had successes – and
they’re scattered, and they’re patchy, and we learn from our mistakes all
the time.”

Schock says it would be much better to solve the frogs’ problems in the
first place. She says that means not paving over all the wetlands. It
means not polluting ponds and creeks. And hopefully, finding a cure
for chytrid fungus.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Goose Herding a Growing Industry

  • Giant Canada Geese, Belle Isle, Detroit. (Photo by Celeste Headlee)

In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near extinction to a now-thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for their human neighbors. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the problem:


In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near
extinction to a now thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese
gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for
their human neighbors. As the Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Celeste
Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the

A year ago, dozens of families flocked to Pier Park in the Detroit suburb
Grosse Pointe Woods for an annual Easter egg hunt. Children rushed
onto the
grass with their brightly colored baskets and then stopped abruptly when
they found themselves surrounded by Giant Canada geese and their

Park manager Michelle Balke says local residents decided
the geese had to go.

“They left droppings everywhere. You couldn’t walk on the grass. They’re
aggressive. If kids start going up to them, they start hissing back and it
got really annoying. They were everywhere.”

It hasn’t always been like that. The Giant Canada goose was so rare 30
years ago that many scientists thought it was extinct. But a few of the
large birds were spotted in the 1960s. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources began
an aggressive recovery program and there are now three and a half million Canada geese in the

Conservation agencies say the birds cause hundreds of thousands of
dollars in damage every year because of accumulated droppings, overgrazing,
attacks against people and threats to aircraft.

(sound of geese)

Tom Schneider is the curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo. He trades
glares with a large male bird that has taken up residence on a lawn at the zoo. The
big black and grey goose honks at Schneider, warning him to stay away
from his chosen territory. Schneider says one aggressive bird can be a bit of
a problem, but a large crowd of them is unacceptable.

“People tend to like them until they get to be a certain number where they
become a nuisance, and when they become a nuisance, they don’t want
any geese. So, you might have a lake that has five pairs on there and that’s
great, but if you have 50 pairs of geese on there, it’s not so good

Schneider is a member of the Canada Goose Coalition. The group
includes representatives from the government, hunters, scientists and animal
welfare organizations. The coalition deals with the large population of Canada
Geese in the Great Lakes region. Schneider says one of the problems
with the birds is that they eat grass. Most birds don’t.

“The problem is they don’t have very efficient digestive systems. So they
have to eat a lot of food to get their nutrients, so as a result they
produce a lot of fecal material.”

Schneider says property owners have struggled to deal with large
groups of geese and the droppings they leave behind. One adult goose produces
about a pound and a half of droppings every day. When there are a hundred
birds on a piece of property… well… you can imagine. But the birds are federally
protected. So there’s not a lot that you can do.

(sound of geese)

But…one guy got an idea and called Barbara Ray. Ray had for years
been training border collies to drive sheep when she got a call from a man
looking for a dog to herd birds.

“I had a golf course superintendent who just had an idea about trying to
use these dogs to herd the geese… not chase them because the dog
needed to be under control. We certainly can’t have a dog that catches the geese
and shreds them like other breeds would be prone to do. But one that is
simply jazzed by staring down and moving birds in a specific direction.”

Ray says it was easy for the dogs to learn how to drive geese and one
dog can cover several hundred acres. She says border collies naturally
intimidate prey without barking or attacking, so they’re perfect for this
kind of work.

“What they’re using is a ‘let’s make my day’ kind of approach where the
stock believes if they don’t move as the dog quietly approaches, staring at
them in this intimidating fashion, that they’re probably going to follow up and
do something more demonstrative.”

Ray has built a business around training goose dogs and has so far
sold more than 500 of the dogs. One of those border collies ended up at Pier Park
in suburban Detroit. Manager Michelle Balke says it’s been a year since
the dog, Kate, arrived and there is no longer a problem with geese at the

“She had just gotten rid of them, whether they sense her being here or
what, but they just stopped coming around. They were going next door, they
were hanging out on Lakeshore Road out there, but they just weren’t coming
into the park.”

(ambient sound of geese fade in)

Tom Schneider says goose dogs are an effective, humane way to deal
with Canada geese on private property, but it’s not a permanent solution to
the problem of overpopulation.

“The problem with that program… in many ways, it shifts those problem
geese to a different location, so maybe they may no longer be a problem on
this golf course but now they’re a problem on that golf course. While that
does provide some remedy for the people in those situations, it doesn’t really
solve the bigger, overall picture.”

Schneider has led a goose management program for over a decade at
the Detroit Zoo that involves destroying eggs. That program has cut the
number of geese on zoo grounds from between 500 and a thousand to 50.

This year, Schneider’s team will travel to other places to destroy eggs
and encourage thousands of geese to move on. But you have to have a
permit to do that which is not that easy to do. Schneider thinks goose dogs might
be the best alternative for private landowners.

(ambient sound out)

Goose dogs have become so popular that more than a dozen
companies around the U.S. now train and sell border collies to chase the Giant Canada

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.

(goose sound out)