20 August 2013

Western leopard toad migration: A toadally awesome time of the year

Renée Leeuwner

Each year, from late July through to September, some areas in the Western Cape are privileged to experience the migration of the endangered western leopard toad. These toads spend most of the year in residential gardens and parks, but when breeding season arrives they migrate to their breeding sites. After breeding, they move back to their residential garden abodes.

The western leopard toad is found all around Cape Town, including the Cape Flats, Zeekoevlei, Noordhoek, Fish Hoek and Hout Bay. They are also found from Stanford to Buffeljagsvlei on the coastal flats. The exact size of the toad population is hard to establish. Each year during the migration, volunteers brave cold and rainy nights to move the toads out of harm’s way.

Male Western leopard toads start calling in early spring – their call sounds just like loud snoring! When you hear them calling you will know that they are about to start moving towards water, where they will mate and lay their eggs. Listen to their ‘snore’ here:

Toads and frogs are generally not perceived as cute and cuddly. They have warty (no, you won’t get warts if you touch them!), slimy skin and in some cultures have a negative reputation. Ecologically however, they are vitally important as they are known as an indicator species. Indicator species are animals that show us what the state of our environment is. Frogs and toads need good, clean water to survive. If our toad and frog species disappear, as they are doing at the moment, it means that our environment is under serious threat and pressure.

Western leopard toads face additional obstacles. Due to development taking place in their natural habitat, the toads have moved into urban areas and can now be found in residential gardens. This has put them in direct contact – and in some cases conflict – with people. Toads drown in swimming pools, succumb to pesticide poisoning and are killed by pets and people. During the breeding season, the toads have to navigate suburban roads, a particularly perilous activity for them, especially at night and in the rain. In the fight between toad and car, the loser is always the toad.

So, what can you do? These toads are, after all, endangered and like any other endangered animal, should be protected. This can only happen if people take action. Here’s what you can do:

  • Volunteer. It doesn’t matter if you live in a toad area or not. During the migration, volunteers are needed to move these toads out of harm’s way. Have a look at the leopard toad website and contact someone in your area to find out how you can make a difference.
  • Slow down! If you live in a toad area, slow down when driving around your neighbourhood, particularly at night.
  • Keep an eye open. Some of these toads are really big. You can’t help but spot them on the roads, so be aware.
  • Tell someone. If you’ve seen any of these toads, visit www.leopardtoad.co.za and register your sighting. This website contains a wealth of information about western leopard toads and why we need to look after them. Also, if you know that you have these toads in your area, tell your neighbours. Let them know what a privilege it is to have an endangered species living in your neighbourhood, and then tell them how to look after these wonderful creatures.
  • Upload your toad. If you find a leopard toad, take a picture of it and upload it to the website.

We build our homes in areas where western leopard toads have always congregated. When toads move between their garden abodes and their breeding sites, hundreds are unnecessarily killed by cars. We can choose for this not to happen. It is up to us.

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