For me, it was a day of mourning.
I prefer to write upbeat, inspiring blog posts. But that’s just not how I felt when I learned that Toughie, the last Rabb’s Fringe-Limbed Frog died last week at the ripe old age of 12. Animal extinction is not exactly fodder for inspirational posters.
A sad day
I awoke at 4:30 AM the day after I read the news article with tears in my eyes. Words kept circling in my head: There are no more. This is what extinct means.
This is what extinct means.
I imagined Toughie’s kin gliding between treetops. Can you picture it in your mind’s eye? Flinging themselves into the gaps, skin flaps catching air, legs outstretched, fingers tensed to grab the next closest leaf with their toe pads, they leap to escape a predator or find the next juicy swarm of bugs. The loss seemed like a needle in my heart.
From the smallest to the largest
I love all animals, but I have a quirky fondness for frogs. During my pre-veterinary training, I took care of a functional morphology lab full of frogs and toads from all over the world. Anyone who loves pets knows that no matter the creature, big or small, there is a lot of love and protection for them. Because of this care, many want to qualify and start on the ladder of veterinary jobs and hopefully take care of as many animals as possible so they can make a difference no matter the size, for me, it was the frogs that caught my heart and stayed there. My special favorites were the tiny and rare Roraima Black Frogs brought back from Mount Roraima by Stephen Gould. Okay, I was a bit of a nerdy fan girl about that.
My first published writing was a research paper in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society on how tree frogs stick. My personal project at home was to attempt to breed the ecologically threatened and beautiful, chestnut-colored Blomberg Toad from Ecuador. They are football sized, the opposite end of the size spectrum from the Roraima Black Frog. I corresponded with Dr. Ray Pawley, the curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at Brookfield Zoo, where they were trying to do the same thing.
My three happy pairs laid at least 30,000 eggs. I was ecstatic when I saw the swarms of eggs in my aquarium froggy love nests. A couple of thousand hatched into tadpoles and 500 made it to frog phase. What hungry critters! I was constantly busy buying and raising thousands of fruit flies in my basement for the tiny babies, surprisingly not much larger than the Roraima Black Frog.
Unfortunately, my colony was attacked by the devastating Chytrid Fungus (pronounced kit-rid; micrograph of the culprit below), which is wiping out frogs across the planet as I type. I lost them all, despite everything I tried.
Humans vs. Nature
We humans don’t always think of ourselves as part of nature, but we are. We don’t preach about it in our book, but underlying the adventure of Misho and Tomo in “Misho of the Mountain” is the love of all living things. I know that Teri, Misho’s illustrator, feels the same as I do. And because Misho’s story is about dealing with hardship and failure, it’s appropriate on this year’s World Animal Day that we look straight into the face of what is arguably a failure in stewardship, the loss of the Fringe-Limbed Frog.
We learn from our losses to pick ourselves up and keep going. I hope we can learn to figure out what to do differently next time.
The aim of World Animal Day is “to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe.” There is so much important work to be done to make sure we are doing our best as their stewards.
Rest in peace, Toughie, and all your kin.
Read more about Toughie at the links below.
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