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Croaking… happily ever after

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Nelson Mandela once said: “Nothing is impossible until it’s done,” and this is exactly what a group of passionate scientists and concerned conservationists found out as they successfully released over 400 endangered Pickersgill’s reed frogs into wetland habitats in KwaZulu-Natal.

To celebrate their success and to celebrate United Nations’ World Frog Day, PPL°WX – People°sWeather (DStv Ch180) and Openview (DStv Ch115), will broadcast the documentary 400 Frogs on Saturday, March 20 at 18:00.

This marks the second original documentary from PPL°WX – People°sWeather. Last year, the channel worked with the Johannesburg Zoo to produce the three part series Makokou, a heart-warming account of the medical journey of a 210kg gorilla from Johannesburg Zoo, as he is airlifted to the Faculty of Veterinary Science in Onderstepoort for a once in a lifetime CT scan.

400 Frogs, follows amphibian and reptile specialist scientist Ian du Plessis, curator at the Johannesburg City Park and Zoo, along with 2020 Whitley Award-winner, Dr Jeanne Tarrant of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, and a dedicated team as they set out to release captive-bred Pickersgill’s reed frogs back into their natural environment in an epic effort to change their status from critically endangered to vulnerable.

Over the challenging three-day period, the team endured a long drive from Johannesburg Zoo, in heavy rains, to release the frogs at three separate sites in KwaZulu-Natal; kept 455 chirruping frogs and tadpoles alive on their journey; carried them on foot and in the dark and rain, into muddy reed-filled wetlands; and made sure they were happily re-introduced into their new home!

Speaking of the tough filming conditions, director and cameraman Daniel Fisher says: “It was a film crew’s worst nightmare – rain, mud, bad visibility, tall reeds, unexpected spiders, insects and snakes! And it was hot with all of us sweating like crazy.

“But in the end, it was worth every struggle made by the conservation team and our crew and this is an amazing tribute to those people who went all out to make the impossible happen.”

Du Plessis explains that the Pickersgill’s reed frogs, which occur naturally in small pockets in KwaZulu-Natal, were classified as critically endangered a few years back but says that “it has been through passionate and collaborative efforts of a number of determined people, organisations and with government’s support that these little amphibians are now only classified as endangered – bringing them one step closer to be able to survive naturally in the wild.”

In 400 Frogs, viewers will see how this Amphibian Research Project has successfully managed captive breeding, release and monitoring of the species through the Johannesburg City Park and Zoo, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Endangered Wildlife Trust and, more specifically Dr Jeanne Tarrant who developed and co-authored a Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) which has been the foundation for the programme.

“We started this process in 2006 when the Johannesburg Zoo recommended the conservation of amphibian life on the planet after some species had almost been wiped out in some parts of the world,” says du Plessis.

“Globally, we needed to have some kind of insurance policy for endangered species, and the idea here is that we create populations away from the sites where they occur, where we can breed them and then release them back into their natural habitats. Big dreams, but possible and worth it.”

Du Plessis is positive about the project’s success, which to date has seen the release of 780 captive-bred frogs back into KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are proud to say that we are the first and only BMP that has been able to complete a full circle from capture to breeding to release and monitoring numerous times. It’s the largest, most successful amphibian conservation project in South Africa, and we are reaching out to assist other African Zoos to start similar programmes,” he says.

400 Frogs will be shown on PPL°WX – People°sWeather (DStv Ch180) and Openview (DStv Ch115) on United Nations’ World Frog Day, Saturday March 20 at 18:00.

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