World focus will be on our small part of Africa and on a small creature this weekend, thanks to a long-running volunteer project looking at the endangered leopard toad.
Noordhoek resident and ToadNUTS founder Alison Faraday has been invited by the organisers of a road ecology conference in France to present a paper on the findings of her leopard toad group.
This is the fifth Infra Eco Network Europe (IENE) conference and will be held in Lyons, France from Sunday August 28 until Friday September 2 and Ms Faraday has been funded by the French embassy to go there. “Very kind of them”, she commented happily.
IENE was established in 1996 as a way of exchanging knowledge about where ecology and infrastructure – roads and the like – meet. In essence, the interface of nature and humankind.
This has become more of an issue because, says the IENE website, most infrastructure was built decades ago when protection of the environment was not a priority. But, with limited funding available, how can ecosystems be kept sustainable?
And this is where the leopard toads come in, a perfect example the interface between nature and humans’ structures, as the leopard toads each breeding season – which is round about now – try to get to their breeding ponds, valiantly crossing roads at night, in the rain, in the face of oncoming traffic.
“I’m very excited to say what we’re doing on this little part of the the planet,” said Ms Faraday about the conference.
“Through our partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and their wildlife and roads project, of which Dr Wendy Collinson is the head, we were requested to make a submission to the IENE review panel. My talk was accepted as part of a greater African contingent.”
Africa is a feature of this year’s conference.
“I am going to use this opportunity to talk about the immeasurable impact that our wonderful volunteers have had over the past 10 breeding seasons – 10 years,” said Ms Faraday.
“Traditionally, conservation efforts are managed through the input of the scientific community who are at the mercy of funders,” she said. This means, that if there is no funding, the research stops. Not so with the ToadNUTs (Noordhoek Unpaid Toad volunteers).
“At Toad NUTS, we rely on the passion and commitment of our volunteers – residents who happily patrol night after night and remove toads out of harm’s way. The volunteers patrol the roads on rainy winters nights looking for toads because they love being part of an initiative that connects them to a community that cares.
“I also believe that once one understands the heroic journey that these beautiful creatures undertake, you can’t help but be moved by it. By assisting these animals on their way, we come in contact with one of the last refuges of wildness in our built up suburban lives.”
Thanks to the volunteers, new information is being found out about the leopard toads with 10 years of continuous data collection, the longest-running project on these creatures.
“No study of its kind has ever been done on this animal,” said Ms Faraday. “Our data has been used by PhD students and other researchers – something we are very proud of.”
The toad volunteer project began in Noordhoek but has spread to other areas in such as Kommetjie at the re-established wetland of Skilpadsvlei, and ponds in Sunnydale, SunValley, Silverglades, Clovelly, Glencairn, Muizenberg, Lakeside and Marina da Gama, among others.
Last year ToadNUTs launched an app which may be used by volunteers to photograph the toads and automatically log them on a database, which includes its GPS co-ordinates.
The ToadNUTs were also responsible for working out a system to stop the high number of toads being killed on the roads. Besides increasing driver awareness by putting up posters, stickers and doing talks, the ToadNuts erected barriers – a ditch and orange netting – for 900m along Noordhoek Main Road to stop the toads crossing. The toads instead are funnelled into buckets and are taken, by the volunteers, across the road.
Before the barrier was in operation, said Ms Faraday, 29.5 percent of 105 toads collected were found dead on the road in 2011. Similar figures were noted in 2012 and 2013 with 29 percent of 155 toads followed by 27.1 percent of 70 toads collected on the road.
“The barrier was erected after the first week of the 2013 breeding season with none of 88 toads collected found dead on the road; further decreases in road mortalities were noted in 2014 (3.6 percent of 138 toads collected) and 2015 (1.9 percent of 106 toads collected).”
But the barrier and bucket system is more than just a safety measure.
“It has allowed us to understand the way in which the toads move and what conditions make the journey a possibility for them. If the temperatures are too low, the toads won’t walk for instance. We are learning more about the variables that make the migration stop and start,” she said.
“Together, with appropriate levels of support provided by the scientific community, local volunteerism may be the most important and enduring strategy for an African country such as South Africa with limited financial resources available for continuous conservation projects.”
* The leopard toads may be seen moving or heard calling for their mates (a loud “snoring” or Harley Davidson motorbike sound from the ponds in the area. Residents are asked to drive carefully in leopard toad areas at night, especially in the rain – usually volunteers put up white posters on lampposts as a warning. For further information, phone Alison Faraday on 082 771 6232.