DENVER — The Denver Zoo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have teamed up to launch a multi-year program to help the population of a small, endangered Colorado animal hop back to a healthy level.
Boreal toads have seen a dramatic decline in numbers over the past two decades and are currently listed as endangered in both Colorado and New Mexico. But through the organizations' partnership, the species will see a population boost of about 20,000 by next year.
Stefan Ekernas, Rocky Mountain/Great Plains program director at Denver Zoo, said their numbers remain strong, despite the decline.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife has done a tremendous amount of work on the conservation of boreal toads for almost 30 years, and we’re excited to join in the effort to help the species make a meaningful recovery while there’s still time," Ekernas said.
About a month ago, a team of conservation and amphibian experts from the Denver Zoo visited CPW's Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility in Alamosa to bring 95 boreal toads back to the zoo in preparation to start a breeding program. The toads were put into brumation — a natural state of inactivity during winter months — and will breed in the spring, according to CPW.
Those tadpoles — as many as 20,000 — will get released into the Colorado wilderness next summer.
The Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility, which was created in 2000, is dedicated to protecting and restoring threatened and endangered aquatic species that are native to Colorado, CPW said. In the past, it has protected 16 fish species and stocked more than 2.1 million fish in Colorado's waterways. Currently, it's raising 12 species of fish along with the boreal toad.
Harry Crockett, native aquatic species coordinator for CPW, said CPW has had success breeding the toads at the Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility before, but admitted it's a challenge.
“This is a great opportunity for boreal toad conservation and collaboration with a strong conservation partner in Denver Zoo," Crockett said. "We will really benefit from their expertise, experience in the conservation and breeding of boreal toads and other endangered amphibian species.”
CPW said this will provide a "significant boost" to the species' dwindling numbers, which are likely due to a combination of habitat loss and infection from the chytrid fungus. The fungus has been linked to major population declines in amphibians, and even extinctions.
Officials from the CPW and the zoo said they believe it will take several years until the population is at a secure level.
While this project is underway, the zoo will launch a community science project where volunteers can monitor the survival of the toads and evaluate potential release sites around Colorado, CPW said.