Last seen in 1924, the Sambas stream toad has been seen again, allowing scientists to capture the first-ever photos of the elusive amphibian, described as a "colorful and gangly tree-dwelling toad." Previously, only three individual toads had been documented, in a nearly 90-year-old drawing.
Also called the Bornean rainbow toad, Ansonia latidisca was spotted in Malaysia by scientists affiliated with or inspired by Conservation International's "Global Search for Lost Amphibians," an effort to determine if rare species once seen are still in existence, or lost to extinction. The Sambas stream toad was on the group's "Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs" list, owing to its extreme rarity.
Indraneil Das of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak led the nearly year-long local effort to spot the nocturnal toad in the high rugged and largely unexplored ridges of the Gunung Penrissen range, which divides Malaysia's Sarawak State and Indonesia's Kalimantan Barat Province. While rarely visited by scientists, the region is the target of human incursions of a less-benign sort: resort development, poaching and habitat fragmentation are all considered threats to the local environment.
"Thrilling discoveries like this beautiful toad, and the critical importance of amphibians to healthy ecosystems, are what fuel us to keep searching for lost species," Das said. "They remind us that nature still holds precious secrets that we are still uncovering, which is why targeted protection and conservation is so important. Amphibians are indicators of environmental health, with direct implications for human health. Their benefits to people should not be underestimated."
Worldwide, amphibians have been in steep decline, owing to factors ranging from climate change to pollution, but primarily from habitat loss and the spread of an apparently new fungus that has decimated many species. It's estimated that about one in three species is threatened with extinction, making amphibians the most at-risk category of vertebrates on Earth. That's why the United Nations declared 2008 the Year of the Frog, to bring attention to the issue.
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