Dave Blackburn, Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the California Academy of Sciences


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Herping in Angola

Academy Senior collections manager Jens Vindum and new Academy postdoc Ed Stanley arrived in Luanda, Angola this past weekend. We have spent the last year working out details and agreements with the Ministry of Environment to facilitate our research there. Hopefully, Jens and Ed, as well as others from Portugal, the US, and several Angolan colleagues that are coming along for training, will head down to the deserts of Namibe this week. We hope that this is the first step towards several years of collaborative research with the Instituto Nacional da Biodiversidade e Áreas de Conservação in Angola’s Ministry of the Environment.

Cameroon frogs out of quarantine!

After nearly five months, I’m happy to report that the frogs we brought back alive from Cameroon are now out of quarantine. They went through several rounds of treatment for pathogens and doing well. Next step will be to begin work on their reproductive biology and get some on exhibit on the Academy’s public floor.

Update on Cameroonian frogs in quarantine

Quick update on the live frogs we brought back from Cameroon last month. Sonia Ghose, our lab tech in herpetology here at the Academy, has just finished screening the frogs for the fungal pathogen responsible for amphibian declines in many parts of the world. As expected, many of the frogs, especially those from the higher elevation sites, are infected with the fungus. We will begin treating them soon so that these frogs can be integrated into the living collections of the Academy’s Aquarium and this not pose a threat to the other frogs here.

As an aside, this took longer than normal because we took time to search for the right DNA extraction kit so that we can also use the DNA from these samples for a study of the microbial diversity on the frogs skin. This can then be compared to the diversity found in the samples we collected at sites in Cameroon as well as of these same captive frogs one they’ve been here at the Academy for a while.

Graduate students Dan Portik and Greg Jongsma straight from the airport and already unpacking specimens from Cameroon. Our 2013 trip to Cameroon was very successful!

Just visited the live frogs we brought back from Cameroon in quarantine here at the California Academy of Sciences. They seem to be doing well!

Frogs on a Plane

We arrived safely in Paris from Douala. All of the frogs traveling along with us seem to be doing well, and our now settled in quite comfortably at the airport. We greatly appreciate the generous assistance from Air France!

Last day in Cameroon

This morning we’re working to pack up all of our gear. Because Dan Portik and Greg Jongsma will be staying on for another three weeks, we’re also busy splitting up gear so as to keep stuff here for those guys and keep fieldwork going. Dan and Greg will travel with Marcel Talla and Divine Fotibu for the next few weeks, mostly focusing on looking for frogs in the forests of western Cameroon for their thesis projects (Dan’s PhD on treefrogs in the family Hyperoliidae; and Greg’s MS on the African frogs in the genus Hylarana). Brian Freiermuth, Becca Tarvin, and I head to Douala later this afternoon. Our Air France flight leaves Douala late tonight. Tomorrow we arrive in San Francisco with more than 50 live frogs of five species in tow!

All permits in hand for heading home tomorrow!

Happy to report that we now have all of the necessary paperwork in hand for bringing home live frogs from Cameroon to the California Academy of Sciences. Tomorrow evening we make the trip back to the US.

View from our hotel in Bamenda. South of Bamenda, we spent two evenings collecting frogs at this fish pond. Here we were able to get males and females of two reed frog species (Hyperolius riggenbachi and H. ademetzi). Packing up yesterday morning to make the 7 or so hour drive back to Yaoundé.
Surprisingly, this is only half our stuff!

We spent two final nights in the field working at two sites just outside of Bamenda. The focus in Bamenda was to collect reed frogs (genus Hyperolius) to bring back to the California Academy of Sciences. We were able to get males and females of two species, including Hyperolius riggenbachi for which some individuals (especially females) are truly spectacular looking.

Bags of Xenopus longipes collected at night in Lake Oku.

We made a quick visit to the Lake Oku to collect the clawed frog (Xenopus longipes) which is found only in that crater lake. We will be bringing back some live frogs to the Academy so that we can learn more about the biology of this Critically Endangered species. For more on the conservation status of this species read the IUCN account here.

Parking tickets in Bamenda. I wish that the parking tickets in San Francisco only cost $4!

Sometimes climbing up mountains causes your vehicle to overheat!

Happy frogs packed up for transport. Academy Aquarium biologist Brian Freiermuth breaking open a termite mound to collect termites to feed to the frogs. Termites are a nutritious food for frogs and easy enough to find in the field.

While in Cameroon, we are collecting live animals of certain frog species to bring back to the California Academy of Sciences. Once back at the Academy, we will be working with these frogs to learn more about their biology which is important for making conservation management decisions in the future. This is part of a new initiative at the Academy that is a partnership between the Aquarium and Research.

The road that goes up and over the Bamboutos Mountains. The highest point in the picture is the summit of the Bamboutos (just over 2700 meters). Our camp in Bamboutos, with the summit in the background. Soon after we arrived at the summit we were enveloped in thick fog! Here are horses that we found at the summit wandering around in the fog. UC-Berkeley PhD student Dan Portik taking a quick field nap near the summit.

Last week we spent two nights in the Bamboutos Mountains looking for frogs. Unfortunately, despite some rains, it seems it was just too early in the season to find many frogs that high up in the mountains.

A Great Final Night of Fieldwork

Last night the team did really well on its last night working together in the field. For dinner, we were hosted by our driver extraordinaire Divine Fotibue at his house near Bamenda (at Nsongwa, also called Mile 90) with an excellent meal prepared by his mother. After that, one part of the team went back to the fish ponds where we worked last night, while the other part of the team (myself included) stayed to work around Mile 90. The team around the fish ponds was able to find males and several females of Hyperolius riggenbachi, a species that we had aimed to collect to work with back at the Academy’s Aquarium. In Mile 90, the others of us found a great diversity of frogs at sites in the small streams and pools among farms at the edge of town. This even included a number of species that we had not found so far on this trip. We had a long night of organizing and preparing specimens, and now we are beginning to pack up for the 6 to 7 hour drive back to Yaoundé.

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