500 captive-reared Natterjack toadlets have been released into the wild in Castlegregory, Co Kerry, the latest group to be reared as part of a joint project between Fota Wildlife Park and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), in a timely boost for the endangered species of amphibians.
Almost 6,000 toadlets have been successfully released into the wild as part of this initiative to date with the latest estimates placing their population at less than 10,000.
Changes in agricultural practices and land reclamation has threatened the natural habitat of the Natterjack in the coastal zones of Castlemaine Harbour and Castlegregory in Co Kerry.
The species is considered to be endangered in Ireland and is also protected under the European Union’s Habitats Directive.
Natterjacks face huge mortality rates-nearly as high as 90%-due to their reproduction methods involving shallow pools of water to avoid predators that dry up early.
Desiccation of breeding ponds before metamorphosis accounts for significant mortality in Irish natterjacks over the past few years. Predators are a major factor as well.
“The Natterjack is a boom or bust species,” explained Dr Ferdia Marnell, the amphibian specialist in the NPWS, who has been overseeing the project.
“Good years can see mass metamorphosis and subsequent juvenile recruitment to the breeding population.
"However, in three or four years out of five, breeding success can be very low. This captive rearing project provides a vital boost to supplement the wild population in Kerry," she said.
Under the captive rearing project, staff from NPWS, part of the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, collect toad spawn and tadpoles from ponds in the wild.
They transport them to Fota Wildlife Park where they are carefully looked after in special holding tanks over the summer months.
Following metamorphosis, the resulting toadlets are then returned to the species’ native range in Kerry.
Minister of State at the Department, Malcolm Noonan praised conservation efforts and said it was a privilege to see the natterjack toads up close.
“The natterjack toad is an iconic native species and we will continue working with Fota Wildlife Park, with farmers and with local communities in Kerry to improve its conservation status," he said.