The Puerto Rican crested toad, the only toad species native to Puerto Rico, is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fort Worth Zoo Curator of Ectotherms Diane Barber serves as the project coordinator for the Puerto Rican Crested Toad breeding program that maintains a healthy, self-sustaining population of this vulnerable species to help prevent its extinction. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles have been released into their native habitat in Puerto Rico since this conservation project began in 1984.
Hurricane Maria was the last of the three hurricanes to pass through the Gulf of Mexico and has been recorded as the worst natural disaster to hit the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Many homes are still without roofs, electricity, access to clean water and refrigeration. Recovery efforts are underway but there is still significant rebuilding to do in the country as a whole. Several weeks passed before Diane heard from anyone at the facility. It was agonizing to not know anything about the animals or the staff and whether their families and homes were safe. After weeks of silence, she was finally able to connect with staff and learn that, for the most part, the main breeding ponds and reintroduction sites had fared well. At the main breeding site, as a result of several strong storms passing through the area in the past, staff worked with partners build two new ponds and made modifications to the surrounding area to reduce saltwater encroachment from the ocean, giving the toads an alternative place to breed that will hold fresh water for future generations. The ponds were completed last summer, prior to Maria. Since there were no major tidal surges from Maria, the modifications to the area held and thankfully there were breeding events at the old and new ponds from wild populations.
Four months later, one of the biggest issues plaguing the staff onsite is access to the reintroduction site. With downed trees, powerlines and general debris still blocking the roads in many areas, it has been difficult for the team to visit the ponds. The Puerto Rican crested toad breeding program is currently raising money to clean debris, repair access roads, replace equipment and repair protective shelters and fencing around ponds. Release efforts were put on hold until the recovery can be completed. Some funds have been distributed to begin repairs at one site and the team hopes to resume releases in May or June. Diane hopes to travel to the site later this spring to coordinate repair and aid with cleanup efforts. Overall, the toads will fare fine, but the people of Puerto Rico have a long journey to recovery.