A species of harlequin frog, believed to have been extinct for about 30 years, has recently been sighted in the Colombian mountains.
Less than five centimeters long, the black body spotted with white; the harlequin star-frog was supposed to have been extinct for three decades. The last time it was officially described was in 1991. Researchers from the NGO Fundacion Atelopus nevertheless documented the species a few weeks ago in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, well helped by members of the indigenous ethnic group of the Arhuacos.
Because the small amphibian knew how to be discreet with the scientific community, the local inhabitants were, however quite aware of its existence. The Arhuaco people, in particular, attach great spiritual and cultural importance to these frogs, which they call “gouna”. They have lived in harmony with them for generations.
“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a place that we consider sacred. Harlequin frogs are the guardians of water and symbols of fertility here, “said Kaneymaku Suarez Chaparro, a member of the Sogrome community and a biology student at Francisco José de Caldas District University.
Working together for the same goal
Researchers heard about the frog as early as 2015, they say. On the other hand, it took a dialogue with the Arhuacos for months before having access to their information. They were finally allowed to enter the sacred mountains to document the frog. After eight hours of walking, they then observed around thirty.
Initially, the researchers were not allowed to take photos. It was only after several expeditions that the spiritual leaders – called mamos – finally agreed.
Indeed, it was agreed that monitoring the species – by analyzing population dynamics and morphology, for example – could help protect it better.
“Working with Indigenous communities can help us find lost species for science. This work also helps us to understand better how we can conserve the natural world in a way that links spiritual and cultural knowledge, “said Lina Valencia, Colombia’s conservation officer at Global Wildlife Conservation.
Researchers say they are very grateful to the people of Arhuaco for the opportunity to work with them.
Finally, it should be noted that while observing several dozen is good news for the species; these frogs must nonetheless continue to face several threats. We are thinking in particular of infectious diseases or the destruction of their habitat.