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EAC’s Chiricahua Leopard Frog Ranarium welcomes its first inhabitants

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EAC’s Chiricahua Leopard Frog Ranarium welcomes its first inhabitants

By Lori Dugan

THATCHER, AZ—In the fall of 2008, a team meeting was held on the Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park Campus which included representatives from EAC’s Biology Department, Arizona Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Discovery Park Campus dean, Harry Swanson, and Eagle Scout candidate, Jason Ellet, to discuss the possibility of a Safe Harbor Agreement and the construction of a ranarium for the Chiricahua leopard frog. (A ranarium is an artificial habitat for the rearing of tadpoles until they become adult frogs.)

“The purpose of a ranarium is to provide a protected mating and development environment with the goal of producing healthy young adults for release back into the frog’s native habitat—the desert riparian areas of southeastern Arizona,” explains EAC Biology Department head and ranarium manager, Dave Henson. “In 2002, the species was federally-listed as ‘threatened’ and likely to become endangered (in danger of extinction) within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Once the agreement was reached a grant was awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and construction began. The Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park Campus Chiricahua Leopard Frog Ranarium is a 320 square foot, semi-sterile pool, that is protected from entry by any organism except insects and airborne plant seeds. The facility was designed by Henson and the plans were produced by students in the EAC’s Drafting Department. Henson worked closely with Dean Swanson and the Discovery Park Campus maintenance foreman Otis (Pancho) McWhorter in building the ranarium with funds from the grant. Community members, EAC and Thatcher High School biology students, and members of EAC’s staff have volunteered over 700 hours of their time and expertise to help in the completion of this project. There were also two Eagle Scout projects completed that included the clearing of vegetation from the site’s perennial pond and the lining of the ranarium with stream cobble.

The ranarium water chemistry, habitat conditions, and frog population health will be monitored by Henson and his biology classes to ensure the greatest opportunity for success in producing healthy frogs. “The facility will be a tremendous educational asset, not only for our students, but also as a way of informing visitors to Discovery Park Campus about the threat of invasive species on our indigenous populations, and to the steps being taken to reverse the trend,” says Henson.

On Wednesday, August 26, 2009, Valerie Boyarski, Arizona Game and Fish amphibians and reptiles conservation planner, and Abbi King, Arizona Game and Fish ranid frog specialist, brought 26 southern Chiricahua leopard frogs from the Deer Creek area in the Galuiro Mountains to the newly completed ranarium in the culmination of the development of what is now Arizona’s third Chiricahua leopard frog ranarium (the others being located at the Phoenix Zoo and the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum).

“Now the work really begins,” says Henson. “Now we must be diligent in caring for, learning from, and developing a healthy population of the Chiricahua leopard frog. We look forward to participating in this worthy endeavor: helping to make a difference in the restoration of the Chiricahua leopard frog to its native, historical habitat.”