Since the rediscovery of Dendrobates mysteriosus by Rainer Schulte in 1989 (see Schulte 1990) there was the urgent need to do something to preserve the last habitats of this totally outstanding frog species, that according to newest molecular genetic research (Becky Symula and Kyle Summers, East Carolina University, in prep.) has a lineage that goes independently parallel to all Dendrobates and connects at the root of their tree, a situation similar to Minyobates steyermarki (Vences et al. 2003). This status is enough reason to put this species immediately on PRIORITY 1 listing for conservation efforts- but with the result that nobody cares for a small CITES 2 frog when elephants, dolphins and other mammal protection projects can create more publicity highlights in the media.
We could not get any financing for years to purchase some shrub forest remnants to be able to create a protected refuge for this CITES Appendix 2 species. Our second expedition in 2000 showed, that even the few remnant forests selected in 1989 for purchase had vanished totally, bringing this species at the edge of extinction by habitat loss. Fortunately, we could discover some areas where a few last populations of those frogs still survive. Those areas could be defined, delimited, and assigned in 2003 to our Rescue project and are now our property.
At the moment is lacking the purchase of the bush fire security ranges around our owned areas, as we lost part of one reserve and some frogs in 2003 by a pasture fire set by the local campesinos, which jumped over to the frog habitat. We must fence also the ranges against cattle and human intruders and install a ranger service. All our reserves will receive the WILDLIFE REFUGE status from INRENA- ANPES possibly in 2005, after finishing the paperwork and species listing of the plants and animals living in the refuges.
We feared that the Chytrid fungus had attacked the Cordillera del Condor and killed those frogs and all the other new amphibian species we discovered in 1989 and 2000, among them two Colostethus species. But our revision in 2000 to 2003 showed that the Chytrid could not yet reach the Condor and attack our sites, but eliminated most amphibians in southern Ecuador at altitudes above 1200 – 1500 m. The Chytrid menace is very close in Ecuador, only 60- 100 km airline distance from the site of D. mysteriosus and we suspect, that the Atelopus sp. population of Vista Alegre on the 2000 m high summit of the Condor behind our refuges might have suffered a total extinction. We are trying to verify this in 2004/05 and also, if the giant Atelopus sp. from the opposite Cordillera del Colan is still surviving.
The Dendrobates mysteriosus project is managed by members of the local titled Campesino community and on community land, with INIBICO as the controlling and advising NGO linked in. We provided also and invested in the first infrastructures for the Zoocriadero Project in 2003 to produce those frogs with our sustainable or intensive methods for rescue and export of juveniles.
Today it is a basic need that any conservation project includes its own financing mode to be able to operate over long terms and provides funds for the conservation work. Peru is still poor and government (INRENA) funds to protect such sites with a ranger system are not available, as they need 40 million $ every year to protect and manage the other National Parks and Reserves.
Our idea of on site fund raising was the intensive and extensive ZIRA production of juvenile frogs for export. The first step (intensive module) is working since August 2003 and awaits final licensing by INRENA. We are also subscribing a Convenio with the local secondary schools to show the young boys and girls how the rescue and management of their valuable local natural resources must be done. One of the most impressing installations is our open air cage of 32 square meters and 3 m height, where the indoor cage produced juvenile frogs improve their skeleton under original sunlight, original ant food and live in original breeding plants in the original climate. This project, the fourth made by INIBICO at the moment, showed also that curious and ingenious local campesinos can even surpass with their findings our professional knowledge of best species breeding!
But the income generation must be secured also by other managements: local endemic insects (black walking stick with red rudimentary wings, Mantis species, butterflies), new aquarium fishes from a natural spring, Gonatodes sp. geckos and the fantastic yellow head Polychrus peruvianus lizards are only some options we will work with in 2005. Specialized ecotourism (see our web section about this matter) will also help to bring frog watchers, orchid specialists, bird watchers, scientists, students, and professional cave explorers to our places. The total deforestation of all the ranges in the South East Condor mountains must be inverted to be able to produce wood and especially fire wood, best oranges, ecological coffee and a lot more. Specialists from our NGO network will train also adult s in conservation issues, ecotourism, and agroforestry for a better future without destruction.