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Toad Conservation

Kihansi Spray Toads: Extinct in the Wild

First discovered in 1996, this species was found living in a five-acre micro-habitat created by the spray of nearby waterfalls in the Kihansi Gorge. In 1999, the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the gorge dramatically changed the toads’ habitat. Although this dam is vital to the Tanzanian economy, as it generates one-third of the nation’s total electrical supply, its construction reduced the size of the Kihansi waterfalls to 10 percent of the former flow. As the toad populations rapidly declined, scientists and Tanzanian officials collected an assurance population of 499 Kihansi spray toads from the gorge. This effort was the result of an agreement between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Tanzanian government.

By 2004, no Kihansi spray toads could be found in the wild; without the cooperative effort to build an assurance population, the species would very likely have disappeared forever. Scientists are still debating the ultimate cause of the Kihansi spray toads’ extinction in the wild, but they theorize a combination of habitat change, pesticide exposure and the infectious chytrid fungus led to their demise.

Over the last 10 years, while the Toledo Zoo and Bronx Zoo have managed the assurance populations of Kihansi spray toads, while the Tanzanian government has been managing the Lower Kihansi Environment Management Project (LKEMP) in the gorge.

Captive Rearing at the Toledo Zoo

Our work with the Kihansi spray toad is a highlight of our conservation efforts. This tiny toad, which can sit on an SD card,  is believed to be extinct in the wild. In an effort to save them, about 500 specimens were transferred to a handful of zoos around the U.S. While the populations foundered at most other zoos, the Toledo Zoo and the Bronx Zoo are happy to report that their populations are flourishing. Through these recovery efforts, we now have reason to be optimistic about the future of this unique species.

The Toledo Zoo is currently the only place where the Kihansi spray toad is on exhibit. You can visit them in Amazing Amphibians, located in the Museum of Science.  Education is an important tool we utilize at the Toledo Zoo and by having the ability to see the room in which these toads are raised, visitors can get a new appreciation for the level of care that goes into conserving such an important species like this.

The spray toad enclosures in captivity meticulously mimic the environment in which these spray toads are found.  This gives them the best chance for survival once they are released back in to Tanzania.

Located in the Amazing Amphibians exhibit, the spray toads are housed in a bio-secure facility where caretakers make sure this population maintains their independence from the Zoo’s collection.