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Conservation Victory For One of World’s Deadliest Animals

Golden Poison Frog
Golden Poison Frog
Golden Poison Frog

Conservationists are celebrating the establishment of a new nature reserve in Colombia that provides the first sanctuary for the endangered golden poison frog, an animal that also has the distinction of being possibly the world’s deadliest animal.

Although it is only two inches long, it is estimated that each golden poison frog has enough toxin to kill ten adult people within minutes.

In one of the wettest tropical rainforests in the world, along the Pacific coast of western Colombia, Rainforest Trust and partners have helped purchase 124 acres of threatened Chocó forest, creating the Rana Terribilis Nature Reserve named for the Spanish word for frog–rana–and the frog’s Latin name Phyllobates terribilis. The reserve is owned and managed by Fundación ProAves, Colombia’s leading conservation organization.

This frog is named because of its bright orange skin that is covered by a secretion of deadly alkaloid poison (batrachotoxins). The toxin prevents nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving muscles in a constant state of contraction, leading to heart failure. Death comes within minutes.The frog’s poison is entirely for self-defense, yet it does little to help its chances of survival against its single biggest threat–bulldozers. Habitat damage and destruction has escalated due to illegal gold-mining and logging.

Despite this frog’s infamous reputation and its importance to indigenous cultures, it is considered by many to be on the edge of extinction, and until now the species was completely unprotected. Dependent on primary forest, the golden poison frog occurs patchily across an area less than the size of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbados. Due to its restricted range and low population, the frog was added to the list of some of the world’s most imperiled creatures identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction.

“The support from our partners made the creation of this critical new reserve possible, and one of the world’s most amazing creatures, the beautiful and deadly golden poison frog, is now protected," said Lina Daza, Executive Director of Fundación ProAves.

Acclaimed journalist Simon Barnes, a Rainforest Trust council member, wrote in The Times of London newspaper in September 2011, "Astonishing–we are on the edge of wiping out one of the most extraordinary and thrilling creatures on the planet. No matter how well a creature is protected by nature and by evolution, it is always vulnerable to humans. There’s nothing we can’t do when we put our minds to it. Still, at least we are now beginning to put our minds to saving the golden poison frog; we would all be much poorer without such a creature to give us nightmares."

The new reserve is also the initiation of an ambitious project called the Chocó Corridor that will connect many highly threatened habitats, from the mangroves on the Pacific Coast to cloud forests on the highest peaks of the western Andes. Rainforest Trust is currently seeking support for this Chocó Corridor initiative.