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Oakland Zoo: Saving Endangered Frogs Is A 'Race Against Time'

OAKLAND (CBS Sacramento/AP) — Wildlife biologists at the Oakland Zoo are working to save the highly endangered yellow-legged frog.

Oakland Zoo manager Victor Alm called the conservation work a "race against time."

The yellow-legged frog is on state and federal endangered species lists. Populations of the frog have dropped roughly 90 percent in the past decade, in part due to a skin fungus that thickens the frog's skin so they can't breathe.

"The Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs along with the southern yellow-legged frogs are some of the most endangered amphibian species in North America," Alm said.

Biologists helped acquire and transport a group of 26 adult yellow-legged frogs from labs and other zoos, including San Francisco Zoo in August. In September, 18 tadpoles were captured in lakes and streams south of Yosemite and north of Kings Canyon in the southern Sierra Nevada, where planted fish and fungus have ravaged the frog population.

The zoo isn't currently breeding the frogs, but spokeswoman Nicky Mora said it's prepared to do so if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Fish and Wildlife make that call.

Mora said the idea is to breed tadpoles the zoo can raise into strong healthy frogs so they can be released back into the wild where they were originally collected.

Frogs are being kept in a quarantine area that is climate controlled at the zoo's new biodiversity center, a breeding, research, and education facility devoted to the conservation of endangered and threatened animals, plants and habitats.

The biodiversity center houses and displays current and ongoing research and programs focused on studying, managing, protecting and restoring threatened and endangered species including the Western pond turtle, California condor, mountain lion, and mountain yellow-legged frog.

With the tadpoles, zoo caretakers bathe them in antifungal medication and house them in tanks of filtered water before minerals are added back at frog-friendly concentrations.

Oakland Zoo Conservation Director Amy Gotliffe said amphibians are indicators of the health of an ecosystem.

"As it is Oakland Zoo's conservation mission to protect biodiversity of ecosystem, frogs are an important focus for our efforts. Our work with the Puerto Rican crested toad and groundbreaking research with the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is critical to the health of habitats across the planet and in our own backyards," she said.

San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles zoos are also working to boost the frog species for reintroduction into their natural habitats.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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