Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo’s contribution to the survival of Pickersgill’s Reed Frogs (Hyperolius pickergilli) which were classified as endangered.


The Amphibian Research Project of the Johannesburg Zoological Garden (JCPZ-ARP) was initiated in 2006 with the main objective to assist with the conservation of endangered amphibian species, after the outbreak of the fatal Chytrid fungus in South America in the late 1980s. This project concentrates mostly on South A frican species to assist to create and establish sustainable insurance populations within the JHB Zoo.As part of the start-up a number of non-endangered species were introduced into the program as pioneers to assist with the designing of operating systems, protocols and husbandry manuals before any endangered species would and could be introduced into the program. In 2017 a MOU was signed between the JCPZ and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZN) a provincial conservation department to join forces in the conservation of amphibian live.

A Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) was also approved and Gazetted by the department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa in the same year. This BMP is specie specific to the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog (Hyperolius pickergilli) a small endemic specie that occur only in the coastal line of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. 

Frogs, including the Pickergill’s reed frogs, are an important indicator species because they live inland and in water. They play a vital role to help us monitor the environment through their thin skin, which indicates whether things are going well or not in the environment. A habitat that has abundant frogs is a good is a good indication that the environment is healthy. Their demise does not only have a negative impact on the amphibians but for all living creatures, including humans.

In 2017 the ARP team with the support of EZKN collected 20 x breeding specimens from one of only 12 known localities where this species could be found. These breeders were brought to the JHB Zoo and housed in a specially designed laboratories. They were the first official breeders for this endangered species. In 2018 a year later, the ARP team had successfully bred 200 x captive-bred specimens. The Pickersgill’s reed frogs were reintroduction into their natural habitat (Site 1: Mount Moreland) were the original 20 x breeders were collected as part of a reinforcement to ensure natural sustainability of the population in Mount Moreland (Site 1). The project continued to grow in leaps & bounds. and numerous releases took place in different sites. In 2020, JCPZ embarked on its biggest release yet, 400 specimens of frogs were successfully released back into the wild in KZN. To date, approximately 800 captive bred specimens have been released to ensure the survival of the specie.

The partnership also grew with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa Biodiversity Institute, Amphibian Ark and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, joining the conservation project. Various husbandry methods, protocols as well as In-situ risk assessment, biosecurity protocols were drafted and implemented to improve the quality of the project and potential to succeed as well as to introduce more species if and when required.

The Zoo is a fundamental conservation tool that assists with further research to ensure the understanding of all live stages, environmental preferences and requirements as studied and then mimicked into the projects with suitable naturalization techniques to improve the potential of survival once introduced back into their natural habitat. Joint conservation effected between creditable Ex-situ as well as In-situ entities proofed to be the way of the future to achieve the objectives to conserve biodiversity on a global level.

By: Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo ARP Team