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A baby Kihansi spray toad piggybacks on top of an adult. (Julie Larsen Maher / Wildlife Conservation Society)

Back From Extinction

A tiny toad returns home to Tanzania after being declared extinct in the wild

By Zach Jones | November 28 , 2012
<p>The toad’s only habitat is the bottom of the Kihansi Falls, a small area about the size of three football fields. (Jim McMahon)</p>

The toad’s only habitat is the bottom of the Kihansi Falls, a small area about the size of three football fields. (Jim McMahon)

In 2009, the Kihansi spray toad was declared extinct in the wild. But now thousands of the tiny toads have been reintroduced into their natural habitat (home environment) in Tanzania.

The term extinct in the wild refers to a species that survives only in zoos and research labs—it no longer exists in its natural habitat.

Once scientists realized the toad’s habitat might be destroyed, they worked hard to care for the teensy species in captivity. The toads, which are small enough to fit on a person’s fingernail, were sent to zoos all over the world.

More than 6,000 of the Kihansi spray toads are alive today because of the scientists’ work. In October, nearly 2,500 of the toads were released back into the wild.

“The Bronx Zoo has been working with our partners, including the Toledo Zoo, for more than a decade to save this species and reintroduce it back into the wild,” says Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City. “This landmark occasion is reason to celebrate.”

A TOAD’S TALE

Biologists first discovered the Kihansi spray toad in 1996. The rare toad’s only habitat was at the bottom of Tanzania’s Kihansi Falls. The species had adapted over time to live only in the wet spray of this single waterfall.

But after a dam was built that blocked water from reaching the waterfall, the toads’ home became endangered, and scientists stepped in to help.

The habitat was re-created with a mechanical misting system that mimics what the wet spray of the waterfall was like before the dam was built. This allows the toads to hop happily in their home again—even with the dam blocking Kihansi Falls.

This is the first time an extinct-in-the-wild species has been returned to the wild inside a human-engineered habitat.

“The success story of the small Kihansi spray toad can teach us big lessons for the future of biodiversity conservation,” says Claude Gascon of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “It is never too late to use the best science and conservation action to save a species and its habitat.”

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