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February : Saving the Ghost Frog

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2 February, 2018

Saving the Ghost Frog

Saving the Ghost Frog


Forest plantations are threatening one of the oldest creatures on the planet. But the MTO Group is taking action to ensure nobody loses, not the loggers nor this ancient species.

The discovery of a fifth limited population of the Hewitts Ghost Frog in South Africa has seen their IUCN status drop from Critically Endangered to Endangered. But they are far from out of the woods.

Amphibians face the threat of extinction more than most other species of animal or plant, which is even more jarring when one learns how long they have been here. The ghost frog is a perfect example, first emerging 160 million years ago - 10 million years before even birds took flight.

Forest plantations are established in green belts that favour tree crops, making forestry companies the custodians to South Africa's natural heritage. This responsibility is front of mind for MTO Forestry, in particular when it comes to the very rare Hewitts Ghost Frog.

In 1988, distinct colonies of these rare animals were found across South Africa. They are under real danger of disappearing due to the conditions caused by logging. Until 2009, ghost frog colonies were found in just four perennial rivers - the Geelhoutboom, Martins, Klein and Diepkloof - that weave through the Elandsberg Mountain Range in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The more recent discovery of a fifth colony in the Cockscomb Mountains, also in the Eastern Cape, has significantly improved the ghost frog's odds for survival.

But it is still at serious risk of disappearing, leaving no room for complacency. MTO Forestry has been introducing and improving practices on its plantations to help preserve the Hewitts Ghost Frog's habitat. The discovery of a new colony simply reaffirms the need to look after these rare animals.

MTO Group CEO Lawrence Polkinghorne has made the company's environmental goals clear when he said: "MTO remains committed to finding ways to minimise our impact on the environment. We continue to monitor our actions and will as far as possible adapt our practices where able to improve habitats of keystone species."

In 1999 MTO commissioned and funded several studies to establish the health and situation of these ghost frog colonies. Since then it has evolved a set of practices that minimize the impact on the frogs and boost their numbers.

These actions include:

  • Drastically reducing activities around river (riparian) zones during the ghost frog's breeding season;
  • Prohibiting any new roads to be built near river systems; 
  • Preparing road surfaces prior to harvesting activities to ensure a minimum amount of silt runoff, which has proven to stagnate breeding;
  • Establishing buffer zones around rivers and using only frog-safe chemicals to remove invader plants. Blanket spraying is no longer allowed near rivers
  •  Careful coordination and planning of both harvesting and de-weeding to maintain stable environments and avoid erosion situations that gunk up rivers;
  • Educating employees and contractors about the frogs and the efforts to secure their environments; and
  • Ongoing study and monitoring of the frog colonies.

Discoveries of new colonies have turned the odds more in favour of the Hewitt Ghost Frog. But for MTO Forestry, this is just the start of the journey to safeguard a species unique to South Africa.

Source: MTO Group


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