Zoos Victoria researchers working to save a Victorian frog species from extinction marked National Baw Baw Frog Day on November 18 by unveiling a brand new frog breeding facility at Melbourne Zoo.
The Baw Baw Frog is the only frog endemic to Victoria, but is now critically endangered, with wild populations confined to small parts of the high-altitude Baw Baw Plateau in eastern Victoria.
Climate change and the highly-contagious Chytrid Fungus are the two greatest threats to the Baw Baw Frog’s survival.
Last year, Zoos Victoria achieved a world-first by successfully breeding the Baw Baw Frog in captivity, slowing the species’ path towards extinction.
This breeding season, Melbourne Zoo researchers are making use of a second specialised frog breeding ‘bunker’ to expand their breeding program.
Melbourne Zoo amphibian specialist Damian Goodall said the facility’s highly-sophisticated climate control features simulate how Baw Baw Frogs live in the wild.
“They are a tricky species and quite sensitive to their environment,” Mr Goodall said.
“So there are lots of little things that we have to fine tune. The new bunker allows us to set up more breeding enclosures so we can then put the different pairs of Baw Baw Frogs together and, hopefully, increase our chances of developing more eggs for release.
“We are in the middle of breeding season at the moment. So there are lots of males in there calling. We have also had lots of females with follicles developing and we also are getting some egg masses there.
“What we are doing here at Melbourne Zoo is trying to breed as many Baw Baw Frogs as possible so we can give them a better chance back in the wild.”
Zoos Victoria threatened species biologist Deon Gilbert has spent the past six weeks on the freezing-cold Mount Baw Baw plateau working to locate wild populations and prepare for the release of eggs from Melbourne Zoo.
“The habitat in itself is remote and difficult to hike through. And then every year we have been involved in this program there are fewer and fewer frogs,” Mr Gilbert said.
Ahead of National Baw Baw Frog Day, Mr Gilbert collected fertile eggs from Melbourne Zoo to take to Mount Baw Baw.
“What we are doing here today is collecting some captive-laid eggs. The whole point of this exercise is to get some eggs back to the field experimentally and see if we can get them to develop all the way to metamorphosis,” he said.
“Days like today when we collect fertile captive-laid eggs that we are taking back to the wild are absolutely huge. It is a monumental step forward for the program and it is also a step in the direction of recovery for this species.”