Not forgotten any longer: the Gigantes forest frog

Image © Jayson Madlao

By |2022-06-21T14:36:09+00:00March 29th, 2022|Amphibians, Asian Species, Conservation, Endemic species, Project Palaka|Comments Off on Not forgotten any longer: the Gigantes forest frog

Pria Ghosh introduces one of our Amphibian Programme partners: Project Palaka, the first amphibian conservation programme using captive breeding in the Philippines.

On a group of remote islands of the Philippines, amid growing tourism, white-sand beaches, and dramatic limestone caves, a small brown frog has been quietly slipping away. The Gigantes forest frog, once thought to live on four of the ten Islas de Gigantes, is now only found on the two largest, and what little research there is suggests populations are declining rapidly there as well.

The Gigantes forest frog has barely been studied: its reproductive behaviour, population dynamics, even its original range and the full extent to which the species has declined, is unknown. What is known is that the species is Critically Endangered, and that it seems to have unique habitat requirements. The frogs spend most of their lives sheltering in the islands’ karst limestone cave system, venturing into the forests nearby to feed, and hiding in tiny cracks and crevices in the rock for protection.

An island with a white sand beach and palm trees lined with colourful boats, leading to a small hill covered in green shrubbery.

Islas de Gigantes is an island chain within the larger Western Visayas archipelago in the Visayan Sea. Image © Patrick Poculan

The case of the Gigantes forest frog exemplifies many of the complex, synergistic challenges faced by our partners. The Islas de Gigantes has a high poverty rate and limited infrastructure – the second largest island Gigantes Sur, for example, does not have a regular electricity supply, and the islands have no waste collection facilities. Tourism has grown rapidly in recent years, which has helped in reducing the poverty rate but has also placed increasing pressure on the natural environment, including causing higher rates of erosion in the Gigantes forest frogs’ limestone caves.

Local communities have seen many researchers and international NGOs come and go, and renege on promises, which has led to ongoing mistrust. In addition to this, one of the key threats facing the Gigantes’s unique wildlife is an invasive tree harvested widely for charcoal – environmentally damaging but essential for many people’s livelihoods.

Two images side by side, one of two people walking in a dark limestone tunnel and one of a tree-covered rocky outcrop of limestone.

The Gigantes forest frogs spend most of their lives sheltering in the islands’ karst limestone cave system. Image © Jero Manulat

Meet Project Palaka

Amid all these huge challenges, who would notice a little, unobtrusive frog silently slipping towards extinction? Project Palaka, a Synchronicity Earth partner, has noticed and is changing the course of the species’ trajectory. Around the world, amphibians are the ‘canary in the co