Project aims to rebuild South Carolina’s declining gopher frog population

South Carolina News

This gopher frog is one of 144 recently released after being given a “Head Start” at Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo. [SCDNR photo by Jessica Egan]

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Riverbanks Zoo and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is working to rebuild the state’s declining gopher frog population.

Hundreds of frogs, so far, have been recently released on public lands in South Carolina through collaborating on a “head start” program that aims to release the state-endangered gophers in the Lowcountry.

“Gopher frogs are excellent indicators of ecological health in the longleaf pine ecosystem,” said SCDNR herpetologist Andrew Grosse. “They have a very complex life history and highly specialized habitat requirements. All of the pieces must be in place and functioning at a high level to support these fragile populations.”

The frogs were placed on the state’s endangered species list due to a sharp population decrease.

The “Head Start” part of the project results when a portion of a gopher frog egg mass is collected from a breeding wetland and transported back to Riverbanks Zoo. Once at the zoo, they are cared for by zoo staff for several months, until they “transform” into frogs.

Those frogs are then released to the wild to grow and reproduce. Since the survival rate of eggs and tadpoles is extremely low, SCDNR says keeping them in captivity until they bypass this vulnerable life stage, gives them an extra “head start” towards survival.

SCDNR herpetologist Andrew Grosse releases a “Head Start” gopher frog on August 30, 2021. [SCDNR photo by Jessica Egan]

“We needed to take action to give these populations a better chance at survival,” Grosse said, “and that means getting more frogs out onto the landscape.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has two “Head-Start” facilities that have raised and released several hundred frogs over the last few years to help boost two additional gopher frog populations in South Carolina.

The collaboration is part of a multi-state project for restoring wetlands and boosting gopher frog populations in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

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