The golden toad (Sapo Dorado) of Monteverde in the Costa Rican jungle went extinct more than three decades ago, a phenomenon that is now cited in UN reports as an example of the consequences of climate change.
Until 1989, generations of nature lovers and scientists marveled at the annual spectacle of these tiny, shiny-skinned batrachians emerging from underground to mate after the dry season.
It was a show that only lasted a few hours. “The ground was very dark and the golden toads stood out like figurines,” recalls Alan Pounds, an ecologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve in Costa Rica.
The golden toad (Bufo periglenes), classified as an anuran amphibian, lived only in the Monteverde jungle.
A “cousin”, the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), is critically endangered due to a fungus. The latest report from the UN’s Climate Panel (IPCC) specifically cites the Costa Rican toad as one of the casualties of climate change.
“About 99% of its population disappeared in one year,” Alan Pounds, whose studies are cited in the IPCC report, told AFP.
In the case of the Panama batrachian, experts point to the deadly effect of Chytrid Fungus, a “superfungus” initially detected on the Korean peninsula.
Alan Pounds insists it was climate change, which exacerbated the El Niño phenomenon that periodically affects Latin America, that caused the disappearance of the Costa Rican toad, which other experts attribute to the same deadly fungus .
“Disease is the bullet that kills the frogs, but climate change is the one that pulls the trigger,” Pounds said when presenting his studies.
Another animal endemic to the Monteverde reserve, the Harlequin frog, has also virtually disappeared, although some scientists claim to have seen a few specimens.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change threatens around 12,000 species, of which 6,000 are threatened with extinction.
The international community opened formal negotiations this year to protect the planet’s biodiversity. The main goal is to protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
But experts say the threat is deeper for places like Monteverde. Precipitation has increased over the past 50 years in the region, but the rain falls irregularly.
In the 1970s, the Costa Rican jungle suffered 25 days of drought per year. Over the past decade, those days have risen to an average of 115.
The humidity that kept the jungle soggy and made it easier for batrachians to survive has been reduced by 70%. Pounds says tourists sometimes ask him in Monteverde where the famous “rainforest” is.
“I say, ‘They’re already inside.’ It often looks more like a cloud of dust than a rainforest,” he laments.
by Kelly MACNAMARA