There are more than 50 amphibian species endemic to the Dominican Republic — and the populations of most are in decline.
It’s a disturbing trend observed in other Caribbean countries and many parts of the world. “It wasn’t until scientists got together and started to compare notes back in the 1980s that they realized this was a global phenomenon,” says Gail Ross, who recently joined Barrick as Manager of Biological and Ecological Sciences.
Ross is a herpetologist, or expert in the study of amphibians and reptiles. She is working with a team on a Barrick-funded biodiversity project to preserve and study several hylid, or tree frog, species in the Dominican Republic. Guided by International Finance Corporation standards, Barrick is spending more than $2 million on the project, which began in 2008 after the company determined that several tree frog species would be impacted by its Pueblo Viejo project. Two of the tree frog species, the Giant Tree Frog and Yellow Tree Frog, are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while a third, the Green Tree Frog, is listed as vulnerable.
While the impact could not be avoided, the biodiversity project includes several components that will not only help preserve the frogs, but also build capacity and knowledge in the Dominican Republic about how to protect tree frogs and other amphibians. These include the creation of a captive breeding program with two facilities, one in the El Llagal Valley where the impacted tree frogs live and another at the Santo Domingo Zoo. The captive breeding programs allow researchers to collect valuable information on frogs from the impacted area, which can be used to preserve the existing frog populations and, if needed, reintroduce the species into a comparable habitat in the future.
Researchers are also developing a tadpole identification guide, which will make it easier to distinguish between tree frogs at the tadpole stage. This is important because adult tree frogs are difficult to find, requiring researchers to scour the woods at night when the frogs are most active. “If you can find and identify the eggs and the tadpoles, you know there are adults somewhere nearby,” Ross says, noting that researchers have located clusters of all three impacted species in other parts of the island.
The project also includes occupancy-modeling surveys to help researchers understand the living patterns of the tree frogs. “Right now, we don’t know how many individual frogs are present in a given area,” Ross says. “We don’t know if they congregate just to breed, or if they’re mainly territorial. We’re trying to determine the density and distribution of the species within a given habitat.”
The biodiversity project is just one way Barrick is endeavoring to protect the environment and wildlife around Pueblo Viejo. The company is also conducting the largest environmental clean-up in the country’s history, reversing damage caused by a mining operation that closed without proper remediation in 1999.