Bolivia's Museum of Natural History has announced that a cross-border team of scientific institutions will be working towards the study and preservation of the Lake Titicaca giant frog.

The Bolivian museum disclosed that the team will include its own "Alcide d'Orbigny," Peru's Cayetano Heredia University and NGO NaturalWay, Ecuador's Zoology Museum, and the US' Denver Zoo in Colorado. The giant frog preservation effort will also receive support from the United Nations as well as the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Lake Titicaca Frogs in Denver Zoo
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

"In a coordinated effort, a cross-border team has been formed for the conservation and study of the emblematic Titicaca water frog (Telmatobius culeus) with the vision for the species' long-term future," the Museum of Natural History told Agence France-Presse through a statement.

The Titicaca Water Frog

The Lake Titicaca water frog, also known as Telmatobius culeus, is a medium to very large species belonging to the frog family Telmatobiidae. It is endemic to Lake Titicaca, shared between La Paz in Bolivia and Puno in Peru. The frog grows up to six inches long (145 millimeters, although records document a sample that grew up to 20 inches long. The sample was documented  in a 1970 findings report by French naval explorer and conservationist Jacques Yves Cousteau.

This particular species of frog is visually identifiable through its soft and loose skin, looking like a sack with detached folds. These folds allow the giant frog to breathe in the waters of Lake Titicaca, which is located more than two miles above sea level. Other bodies of water in the area also support these giant frogs.

The Titicaca giant frog lives up to depths of 109 yards in the South American waters.

Its diet mostly consisted of amphipods and snails in the lake, though it also includes insects and tadpoles from other frogs, including its own species. Adult frogs can also hunt and eat fishes, usually Orestias - pupfishes that grow up to 4 inches long.

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A Sharp Decline in the Frog Population

It was reportedly common in the past. Cousteau conducted a survey of the species in the late 1960s, finding 200 individual giant frogs in a one-acre plot of the 2 million acre lake. However, previous decades have thinned the population of the Titicaca giant frog. Overexploitation for culinary, medicinal, and traditional purposes have led to dwindling numbers of the T. culeus.

Another factor that pushed the Lake Titicaca giant frogs toward endangerment is the increasing pollution levels in Lake Titicaca. Foreign materials have previously caused infectious diseases, resulting in massive amphibian deaths in the lake. In 2015, thousands of the Titicaca giant frog were found dead along the lake's shores on the Bolivian side.

Following the September 2019 assessment of the species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have declared the Lake Titicaca giant frog as endangered

The latest cross-border effort for preservation is the latest move to save these huge frogs. Trading of the frogs in Peru has long been illegal, expanding the law in 2014 to ban the capture of these creatures. Two to three years later, Bolivia followed suit by banning hunting for the giant frogs. Both countries have been working together in preservation efforts, usually through policies and developmental projects.

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