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Conservation team finds a Valentine for lonely frog

Sabrina Edwards

An internet famous, critically endangered, single-and-ready-to-mingle amphibian found an optimal candidate for his first mate this month, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The frog, named Romeo, was believed to be the last of the Sehuencas water frogs (Telmatobius yuracare). These frogs are native to Bolivia and reside in freshwater rivers and streams in the Yungas cloud rainforest.

Biologists and conservationists at the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative believed that Romeo, who is living at the Natural History Museum in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was the last of his kind as no other Sehuencas water frogs had been seen in over 10 years.

The life expectancy of a Sehuencas water frog is around 15 years, so in 2018 things became desperate. 

Romeo’s tragic love life drew media attention when the environmental organization Global Wildlife Conservation teamed up with the dating service Match to design Romeo his own online dating profile for Valentine’s Day last year.

The profile was a fundraising effort to encourage donations to fund further expeditions to find more Sehuencas water frogs. It included a photo of Romeo and a lighthearted, but still heart-breaking, biography.

“I’m a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and have the best nights just chilling at home, maybe binge-watching the waters around me” says his profile. “As for who I’m looking for, I’m not picky. I just need another Sehuencas like myself. Otherwise, my entire existence as we know it is over (no big deal).”

Evidently, these expeditions paid off: Five Sehuencas water frogs – three males and two females – were discovered and caught in a river in a remote Bolivian forest this past January.

They were taken into captivity with the intent to facilitate mating and eventually to save the species.

While some conservation efforts exist to facilitate mating in the wild, the precarious nature of the Sehuencas water frog population makes it an optimal candidate for breeding in captivity and release.

One of the females, the aptly named Juliet, was selected by the team as a possibly optimal match for Romeo due to their different, but possibly complementary, personalities.

Before the frogs are introduced to each other and encouraged to mate, the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative will pursue treatment for chytridiomycosis.

This disease has been decimating amphibian populations worldwide and the team at the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative are eager to prevent it impacting the already miniscule Sehuencas water frog population. Between climate change, habitat loss, pollution, and chytridiomycosis, a large number of amphibian species are experiencing rapid endangerment across South America, thus making responsible conservation practices even more important.

Chris Jordan from Global Wildlife Conservation, the group that’s been looking for a mate for Romeo for 10 years, stated that the impacts of this conservation effort go beyond the Sehuencas water frog.

“We have a real chance to save the Sehuencas water frog – restoring a unique part of the diversity of life that is the foundation of Bolivia’s forests, and generating important information on how to restore similar species at grave risk of extinction” he told the BBC.

The biologists and conservationists involved hope that Romeo and Juliet will hit it off and have a much less tragic ending than Shakespeare’s infamous lovers.

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