Biologists have documented the presence of a critically endangered toad for the first time since 1991 with the help of indigenous people who are working to protect the animal and its habitat, according to a press release from Global Wildlife Conservation.
The starry night harlequin toad (Atelopus aryescue) is only found in one part of the world: the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in Colombia. This area is sacred to local Arhuaco people in the community of Sogrome who consider the black-and-white spotted amphibian to be a guardian of water and symbol of fertility.
Scientists haven’t seen this toad in the wild for decades due to its rarity and remote habitat, but earlier this year, members of the Sogrome community allowed members of the Colombian conservation nonprofit Fundación Atelopus to make an eight-hour hike to observe the animal in April 2019. On a second expedition, the researchers were allowed to take photos. The Sogrome community has chosen the toad as a flagship animal for its community-based program Amas la Sierra, which aims to create bridges between indigenous and nonindigenous cultures and aid with conservation of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region through the sale of locally grown coffee.
“This is a powerful story about how working with indigenous and local communities can help us not just find species lost to science, but better understand how some species are surviving and how we can conserve the natural world in a way that connects spiritual and cultural knowledge,” says Lina Valencia, Colombia conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation, in the press release. “We are tremendously grateful to the Arhuaco people for giving us this opportunity to work with them.”
Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at email@example.com.