April 29, 2021

YSEALI Alumnus Spearheads Mysterious Rediscovery of Rare Stream Frog

 

While exploring in the Busa mountain range in the South Cotabato region in the Philippines, exchange alumnus Kier Mitchel Pitogo and his colleague Aljohn Jay Saavedra rediscovered a small population of Guttman’s Stream Frog, which was previously believed to be extinct.

According to the Herpetological Notes paper, Kier and Aljohn reported their rediscovery of what they say may be the rarest amphibian in the Philippines, and possibly, the world.

With support from USAID Philippines' biodiversity assistance program, the pair of biologists stumbled upon the frog species while traversing through the mountain range in 2021. The stream frogs were rediscovered living in the forest of Mount Busa on the island of Mindanao. They are brightly colored frogs, first identified in the wild in 1993 – but they were never seen again, until now. 

The frog species has eluded herpetologists and confused scientists who have tried – yet failed – to spot the species in the wild. Even for Indigenous peoples, who act as guides for researchers and scientists, Guttman’s Stream Frog has been impossible to identify. The local government holds no records of the species, and as a result, little is known about the frog. 

With the lack of studies on its natural history, scientists believe that the frog species occurs in “high-elevation, hard-to-access streams, and it probably has little to no tolerance to disturbance.” As a result, it has avoided scientists, making this discovery even more significant. 

Kier Mitchel Pitogo, one of the scientists, is an alumnus of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) program. “My YSEALI experience has allowed me to meet many promising young people across the region who share my passion for biodiversity,” Kier said, adding, “The cross-cultural exchange of learnings and practices improved my understanding of the many conservation issues in the world. And I think this is the beauty of exchange programs - not only [do] you get to know about others’ cultures, but also of their worldview.”

When speaking about the rediscovery of the Guttman’s Stream Frog, Kier reflected on what this means for the greater scientific community: “The most rewarding part of the rediscovery is the attention it has given to the Busa Mountain Range, which is currently being proposed as a protected area. The end goal of all my research studies in the BMR is for its protection and conservation, considering that it hosts the largest remaining primary forest block in my home region.”

Kier and his colleague’s discovery has been published in major news outlets, such as the Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, Remate and GMA News. Little is known about Guttman’s Stream Frog, but its rediscovery emphasizes the need to protect its fragile habitat and support wildlife conservation.

Kier wants to inspire young scientists to pursue their dreams, and not lose hope. “Young people have the grit to lead in pursuing the things that we’re passionate about. I hope that my story will inspire more young people to start and lead their conservation journey. It's never too early to start.”

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