The Arthroleptis troglodytes, below, also known as the cave squeaker because of its preferred habitat, was discovered in 1962, but there were no reported sightings of the elusive amphibian after that. An international “red list” of threatened species tagged them as critically endangered and possibly extinct.
Robert Hopkins, a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, in Bulawayo, said his team had found four specimens of the frog in its known habitat of Chimanimani, a mountainous area in eastern Zimbabwe.
The research team found the first male specimen on Dec. 3 after they followed an animal call they had not heard before, Mr. Hopkins said. They then discovered two other males and a female. Mr. Hopkins said he been looking for the cave squeaker for eight years.
“I was not with my team when they were found,” he said. “I was at the base. I can no longer climb the mountains as I am 75.”
Researchers plan to breed more frogs with the ones taken from their habitat and then reintroduce them to the mountain summit. The frog is tiny and light brown with dark spots.
Now the authorities fear for the frogs’ security, especially because scientists’ and researchers’ huge interest could result in the frog being captured and illegally exported. Mr. Hopkins said 16 specimens were on display at various museums, including the British Museum.
Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, said: “We are expecting an influx of scientists looking for it. We will do everything in our power to protect and conserve the frog.”
Arthroleptis troglodytes is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN because its extent of occurrence (EOO) is 20 km², it occurs in one threat-defined location and there is ongoing decline in the extent and quality of habitat. It was been tagged as Possibly Extinct as it was last seen in 1962 and recent surveys in 2010 failed to detect this species, although it is acknowledged that it may not have been an optimum time in which to detect the species (e.g. not during rains). Most of the specimens were collected in sinkholes or caves and a few were found in open montane grassland. It presumably breeds by direct development. There is very little direct information available for this poorly known species and threats to the species are not well understood. During a survey in 2010, the vicinity of the type locality was found to be intact. However, there are both diamond and gold mining activities locally. The diamond mine at Chimanimani is currently outside the national park, but artisanal mining is known to have caused significant riparian damage on the Zimbabwe side (supposedly worse in the southern part of the park) and is also known to take place in fluvial areas on the Mozambique side. Furthermore, rumours were circulating during a visit in 2010 that the government was considering deproclaiming part of the national park for a commercial gold mine . Thus, considering the available data, it is not implausible that mining activities pose a threat to the species. Finally, as with other species occurring in isolated montane habitats, it could be at risk from the effects of climate change.