Rare frog delays extinction for another year

Less than 100 Mississippi gopher frogs remain in the wild. Another 75 or so live in five zoos around the country. And thanks to the efforts of biologists and scientists, another few hundred tadpoles could survive long enough to add to that population in the next few years.

The rare frog breeds in shallow ponds that tend to dry up during droughts, which makes it very hard for tadpoles to survive. In fact, no tadpoles survived droughts in 1999 and 2000, and some only survived in 2001 because the National Guard brought in water to refresh the pond.

Luckily, this year brought ample rains, and the three ponds where the frogs are known to exist did not dry up. Thanks to the weather and the efforts of biologists who helped protect the tadpoles from a deadly parasite, 181 young frogs survived. Their long-term survival is still a question, though, as they face many natural threats and will take several years to mature enough for breeding.

In addition to the wild populations, several zoos are trying to breed the frogs in captivity. The first attempt, at Memphis Zoo, failed when all of the tadpoles died.

The gopher frog was listed as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1983. It finally gained that protection 18 years later, in December 2001.

Will it last another 18 years? That's hard to say, but at least someone is looking out for them. That's more than many endangered species can say.