Ecological restoration and repopulation, keys to saving the golden frog of Supatá.

The Active Conservation Alliance (ACA) suggests the creation of private reserve areas to initiate reforestation projects and reintroduction of specimens born in captivity to help recover the populations of this species, classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This amphibian has already lost 90 percent of its habitat.

In Supatá, a town located two hours from Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, lives a golden frog, a truly tiny animal, the size of an almond.

Since always, individuals of the species have been natural explorers and often perceived that the territory where they settled, and spontaneously adapted, was a paradise.

There they hopped in the middle of streams, got to know the forest plants, kept an eye on their predators hidden among the branches of some vine, reproduced comfortably, and fed without hesitation, usually on insects, the preferred diet of amphibians.

Sometimes, they rested for hours in the puddles that the rain usually formed among the leaves of bromeliads, where they also took the opportunity to care for their offspring. A normal and even ideal life for a group of golden frogs.

However, a few years ago, things began to change, and the habitat that sheltered them transformed.

The men who have also lived in Supatá for years began to cut down the forest to replace it with agricultural crops that dried up and polluted the streams. Things worsened when they themselves, in some spaces, introduced cattle. And cows, when out of control, trample everything in their path.

Many golden frogs began to die. To the point that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says that, due to the deterioration of that originally wonderful home, the few that still survive are Critically Endangered.

It recently appeared

The existence of golden frogs remained hidden from science for years.

They were only first seen in 2005. And their description, that is, the study that led expert biologists to say they were different from the others and that they only inhabited those lands of Supatá (an endemic species that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world), was only finalized two years ago, in 2021. Since then, they proudly carry a scientific name that groups them: Andinobates supata.

Recent studies say that more than 90% of that forest where they took refuge has been logged. And with such a small home and surrounded by so many threats, their vulnerability increases day by day.

The frog is also attacked by illegal wildlife trafficking, led by people who illegally extract

specimens from the natural environment to sell them and take them abroad.

Reintroduction of specimens

To mitigate the situation, awareness campaigns have been proposed. Even in Supatá, the community has begun to get to know and care for the frog as a local symbol, to the point that a monument was built in its honor in the main park of the municipality and an annual festival is held to highlight its existence. (Figure 1)

A poster with a frog on it

Description automatically generated

Figura 1. Poster del festival 2023 de la rana dorada 

But, while none of the above has shown concrete results, the Active Conservation Alliance (ACA) along with its allies from the Tesoros de Colombia conservation project offer some alternatives to try to recover their populations. 

One, from ACA, suggests initiating ecological restoration processes for the frog’s forest. 

This includes, as a first step, the creation of a private reserve area, from which ecological restoration and reforestation work in the forest would be carried out, complemented by environmental education work with the inhabitants. 

The other alternative is scientific, including concrete advances, led by Tesoros de Colombia.

With the permission of the National Authority of Environmental Licenses (ANLA) and the Autonomous Regional Corporation of Cundinamarca (CAR), the company is currently advancing in an experimental phase to perfect the reproduction of the frog in captivity, starting from a few specimens, called parental, which were obtained in the wild.

From this work, and when the birth of the offspring is perfected, two tasks aimed at their conservation would be carried out: on the one hand, some of those individuals would be exported to Europe or the United States to stop the illegal trafficking of the species.

This latter part, which is a commercial phase that must also be authorized by the ANLA, would transform into a legal offer, obtained sustainably, which has a domino effect in favor of the amphibian: because the price paid abroad for each specimen is reduced, aquarium owners or collectors can satisfy their demand without resorting to the black market, and the ‘business’ of those who hope to traffic it loses strength, as there begins to be an authorized supply that illegal trafficking cannot compete with.

Obviously, all of the above is an activity that generates economic resources, necessary to maintain the operation of the facilities where amphibians are bred. And it becomes an alternative that diversifies the economy and generates jobs.

Urgent repopulation

In a way, this step-by-step process, which is at the same time a conservation and knowledge generation project, could be explained by saying that the Colombian state entrusts, by way of a loan, a series of individuals of the species to a group of experts so that they can reproduce them and prevent them from becoming extinct, a practice usual in many countries worldwide and even endorsed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), an organ that promotes transactions and investments in flora and fauna in developing countries, including those related to genetic resources, ensuring their care and long-term improvement at the same time.

And it is a task that includes an additional step where the frog can obtain a definitive benefit: by leading this reproduction process, Tesoros de Colombia would carry out, in the place where the first collections were made—or in other areas of Supatá previously agreed upon with the communities and the regional environmental authority—a repopulation of specimens of the golden frog, which could be the basis for long-term recovery.

This latter would be leveraged with the already proposed ACA proposal because this repopulation would be promoted from those recommended reserve lands to be created.

Tesoros de Colombia already fulfills all the phases described above—reproduction, trade, and support for species in the field—and works with ten species of Colombian frogs, all in threatened situations, including Dendrobates truncatus, Dendrobates terribilis, Oophaga histrionica, and Oophaga lehmanni.

By the way: a recent Global Amphibian Assessment, published in the journal Nature, placed Colombia as the country on the planet with the highest number of amphibian species at risk—320—out of a total of eight hundred inhabiting the territory. That is why it is necessary to act urgently, especially if the options and formulas to help national frogs, such as those from Supatá, are known and outlined.

Restauración ecológica y repoblación, claves para salvar a la rana dorada de Supatá

Active Conservation Alliance (ACA) sugiere la creación de áreas de reserva privada, para iniciar proyectos de reforestación y reintroducción de ejemplares nacidos en cautiverio, para ayudar a recuperar las poblaciones de esta especie, catalogada como En Peligro Crítico de extinción por la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (UICN). Este anfibio ya perdió el 90 por ciento de su hábitat.

En Supatá, una población situada a dos horas de Bogotá la capital de Colombia vive una rana dorada, un animal realmente muy pequeño, del tamaño de una almendra. 

Desde siempre, los individuos de la especie han sido exploradores natos y percibieron muchas veces que ese territorio donde se instalaron, y se adaptaron espontáneamente, era un paraíso. 

Allí saltaban en medio de las quebradas, conocieron las plantas del bosque, vigilaron a sus depredadores escondidos entre las ramas de algún bejuco, se reprodujeron cómodamente y se alimentaron sin reparos, usualmente de insectos, la dieta preferida de los anfibios. 

A veces, reposaban por horas en los charcos que la lluvia solía formar entre las hojas de las bromelias, donde también aprovecharon para cuidar a sus crías. 

Una vida normal y hasta ideal para un grupo de ranas doradas.

Sin embargo, hace unos años, las cosas comenzaron a cambiar y el hábitat que las resguardaba se transformó. 

Los hombres que también han vivido por años en Supatá empezaron a talar el bosque para reemplazarlo por cultivos agrícolas que resecaron y contaminaron las quebradas. Las cosas se agravaron cuando ellos mismos, en algunos espacios, introdujeron ganado. Y es que las vacas, cuando se salen de control, aplastan todo lo que encuentran a su paso. 

Muchas ranas doradas comenzaron a morir. Al punto de que la Unión Internacional para la Naturaleza (UICN) dice que, por el deterioro de ese hogar originalmente maravilloso, las pocas que aún sobreviven están En Peligro Crítico de extinción.

Apareció hace poco

La existencia de las ranas doradas se mantuvo oculta para la ciencia durante años. 

Solo fueron vistas por primera vez en el 2005. Y su descripción, es decir, el estudio que llevó a los biólogos expertos a decir que eran diferentes a las demás y que solo habitaban en esos terrenos de Supatá (especie endémica que no puede verse en ningún otro lugar del mundo), se concretó solo hasta hace dos años, en el 2021. Desde ese momento, llevan con orgullo un nombre científico que las agrupa: Andinobates supata

Recientes estudios dicen que más del 90% de aquel bosque donde se refugiaban ha sido talado. Y con un hogar tan pequeño y rodeado de tantas amenazas, su vulnerabilidad aumenta día tras día. 

La rana también es atacada por el tráfico ilegal de fauna, liderado por personas que se encargan de extraer ilegalmente ejemplares del medio natural, para venderlos y llevarlos al exterior. 

Reintroducción de ejemplares

Para mitigar la situación, se han propuesto campañas de sensibilización. Incluso, en Supatá, la comunidad ha comenzado a conocer y a cuidar la rana como un símbolo local, al punto de que fue construido un monumento en su honor en el parque principal del municipio y anualmente se hace un festival para resaltar su existencia. (Figura 1)

A poster with a frog on it

Description automatically generated

Figura 1. Poster del festival 2023 de la rana dorada 

Pero, mientras nada de lo anterior ha mostrado resultados concretos, Active Conservation Alliance (ACA) junto a sus aliados del proyecto de conservación de Tesoros de Colombia, ofrecen algunas alternativas para tratar de recuperar sus poblaciones. 

Una, desde ACA, sugiere poner en marcha procesos de restauración ecológica para el bosque de la rana. 

Esto incluye, como un primer paso, la creación de una zona de reserva privada, desde la cual se lleve a cabo un trabajo de restauración ecológica y reforestación del bosque, complementado con trabajos de educación ambiental con los pobladores.

La otra alternativa es científica, que incluye avances concretos, liderada por Tesoros de Colombia. 

Con el permiso de la Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales (ANLA) y de la Corporación Autónoma Regional de Cundinamarca (CAR), la empresa avanza hoy en una fase de experimentación para perfeccionar la reproducción de la rana en cautiverio, a partir de unos pocos ejemplares, llamados parentales, que fueron obtenidos en vida silvestre. 

A partir de este trabajo, y cuando el nacimiento de las crías sea perfeccionado, se ejecutarían dos labores encaminadas a su conservación: de una parte, se exportarían algunos de esos individuos a Europa o Estados Unidos, para frenar el tráfico ilegal de la especie.

Esto último, que es una fase comercial que también debe ser autorizada por la ANLA, se transformaría en una oferta legal, obtenida con sostenibilidad, que produce un efecto dominó a favor del anfibio: porque se reduce el precio que se paga en el exterior por cada ejemplar, los acuaristas o coleccionistas pueden saciar su demanda sin acudir al mercado negro y el ‘negocio’ de quienes esperan traficarla pierde fuerza, en la medida en que comienza a existir una oferta autorizada con la que el tráfico no puede competir. 

Obviamente, todo lo anterior es una actividad que genera recursos económicos, necesarios para mantener el funcionamiento de las instalaciones donde se crían los anfibios. Y se convierte en una alternativa que diversifica la economía y genera empleos. 

Repoblamiento urgente

De alguna manera, este paso a paso, que es a su vez un proyecto de conservación y de generación de conocimiento, podría explicarse diciendo que el Estado colombiano le confía, a manera de préstamo, una serie de individuos de la especie a un grupo de expertos para que ellos los reproduzcan y no se extingan, una práctica usual en muchos países del mundo e incluso avalada por la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre Comercio y Desarrollo (UNCTAD, por sus siglas en inglés), órgano que fomenta las transacciones y las inversiones en flora y fauna en países en desarrollo, incluidas aquellas que tienen que ver con recursos genéticos, asegurando al mismo tiempo su cuidado y mejoramiento a largo plazo.

Y es una labor que incluye un paso adicional que es donde la rana puede obtener un beneficio definitivo: por liderar este proceso de reproducción, Tesoros de Colombia realizaría, en el lugar en donde se hicieron las primeras colectas —o en otras zonas de Supatá previamente acordadas con las comunidades y la autoridad ambiental regional—, un repoblamiento de ejemplares de la rana dorada, que podrían ser la base para una recuperación a largo plazo.

Esto último se apalancaría con la propuesta ya planteada de ACA, porque ese repoblamiento se impulsaría desde aquellos terrenos de reserva que se recomiendan crear.

Tesoros de Colombia ya cumple con todas las fases descritas anteriormente —reproducción, comercio y apoyo a las especies en el terreno— y trabaja con diez especies de ranas colombianas, todas en situación de amenaza, entre las que aparecen Dendrobates truncatus, Dendrobates terribilis, Oophaga histrionica y Oophaga lehmanni.  

A propósito: una reciente Evaluación Mundial de Anfibios, publicada en la revista Nature, ubicó a Colombia como el país del planeta con la mayor cantidad de especies de anfibios en riesgo —320— de un total de ochocientas que habitan en el territorio. Es por eso que resulta necesario actuar con urgencia, más si las opciones y las fórmulas para ayudar a las ranas nacionales, como la de Supatá, son conocidas y están planteadas.

Endangered species are rehabilitated in La Reserva Biopark

La Reserva Biopark houses and rehabilitates various animals in danger of extinction in Colombia, which have been victims of illegal trafficking and have ended up with deep wounds on their bodies. Learn about the initiatives that exist to protect and reproduce these animals, which are on the brink of extinction in the world.

Colombia park fights animal trafficking with education

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — On the outskirts of Colombia’s capital red macaws share a nature reserve with ocelots and black-headed parrots. A white-crested harpy eagle whistles at schoolchildren who walk on a well-preserved trail.

The animals come from different regions of this ecologically diverse South American country. But most of them share one thing in common: They were rescued from animal traffickers.

As leaders in the fight against wildlife trafficking gather in London this week at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, conservationists around the world are working to provide shelters to the thousands of animals that have been rescued from smugglers.

The Bio Parque La Reserva in the Colombian city of Cota is home to 50 species ranging from turtles to golden poison frogs, which are sought by collectors for their rare color.

Ivan Lozano, the reserve’s director, said his organization helps formerly trafficked animals recover from their injuries and reintroduces some of them into the wild. But it also uses animals that can no longer live in their original habitats to teach visitors about different species and their role in the ecosystem.

“Our idea here is to change the behavior of younger generations toward these animals” Lozano said.

To achieve this goal the Bioparque reserve opens its doors to hundreds of tourists and schoolchildren each week, for a fee of $6. Only guided visits led by the park’s experts are allowed.

While Colombia lacks well-known species like rhinos or elephants that make world animal-trafficking headlines, the country is strongly affected by the trafficking of exotic snakes, parrots, frogs and three-toed sloths.

More than 23,000 animals were confiscated in Colombia from traffickers last year, and smuggling is a serious threat to species like the golden poison frog.

Lozano believes that education is one of the keys to reducing animal trafficking and that is why he has opened his reserve to visitors.

“We want people to realize that they too have a role in reducing the loss of our biodiversity” he said. “And we want to make scientific discourse more accessible.”

Tolima farmers grow coffee while protecting a multicolored poison dart frog

Tesoros de Colombia Sustainable Farm supports 73 farmer families from the Casabianca municipality in Colombia who harvest quality grain and, at the same time, develop responsible practices within the habitat of the dotted poison frog (Andinobates dorisswansonae), a species of amphibian that only
lives in this sector of the planet (endemic). The Active Conservation Alliance is joining forces with Tesoros de Colombia to support this unique project.

It is unusual for agriculture and wildlife conservation to complement each other. Because it is frequently heard that many crop owners, in their eagerness to develop, cause intense deforestation or destroy the
habitat of many species. In short, the conservation of biodiversity and productivity do not always advance in the midst of an ideal integration.

Tolima / Colombia

However, in the rural area of the municipality of Casabianca, in Tolima, there is an attempt to transform that premise and partially change history.
In a community crusade that strives daily to maintain its impact, and that is being supported by Tesoros de Colombia (a frog conservation project and farm), farmers from this municipality are growing high-
quality coffee, while taking care of the habitat of a unique species in the world, known as the spotted poison dart frog, seen only in this part of the planet (endemic) and standing out among the vegetation for its shiny, black skin, spotted with red, yellow, or orange dots.

They avoid burning, among other good practices

Coffee crops could represent everything that a frog like the dotted frog would reject to keep the leaf litter intact, forests with a good presence of bromeliads or water sources, some of the sites that form its main home and where it deposits and cares for its young tadpoles. For this reason,
the farmers, grouped within the Agromejora Association, are committed to consolidating the grain harvests, but as long as they adopt some responsible practices that respect the environment of the Andinobates dorisswansonae, the scientific name of the amphibian.

Mountains on the banks of the rio cauca, beautiful and fertile land for agriculture

Óscar Buriticá, legal representative of the Agromejora Association, says that grain crops are grown from natural fertilizers, without using too much water and with drying process that does not use tools that could be polluting due to the use of fuels. “We are focused on avoiding chemical spraying; We don’t burn either. And we respect the shores of the ravines or the places where the frog is”, he explains.

The Association was born in 2015 in the village of La Mejora, with no more than 15 founding families. Today, it is made up of 73 families that live in 26 of the 29 rural areas of Casabianca, including La Esperanza, the one that contributes the most members. All of them, together, produce at least one load of grain each month which is equivalent to approximately 250 pounds of parchment coffee, ready to be ground. A small part of the product is for domestic consumption, because most of it is sold under the Café Endémico brand, a name that honors the exclusive presence of the Dotted frog in the territory. Generally, it is packed in bags of 300 and 500 grams, either in seeds or in powder (soluble).

Buriticá says that the Association has always been willing to improve its processes, in order to increase the quality of the product, which was recently presented in Montenegro (Quindío), during a specialty coffee
fair —the first experience of its kind for the brand. — and in which Café Endémico stood out for its aroma and softness. “However, and despite the fact that it has been very well received, we know that we can
consolidate it as a high-altitude coffee (it is grown at an altitude of 1,800 meters), exclusive and unique in the country,” says Buriticá.

And it has been in this step by step to improve the profile of the grain and its production, in which Tesoros de Colombia has joined the community to contribute to that objective.

A few months ago, for example, an agronomist, hired by Tesoros de Colombia, advised coffee growers on improving some processes. And in turn, the firm supported, at the same time, the redesign of the labels and bags in which the coffee is sold, so that they would be more graphically attractive. The product has also been taken, by representatives of Tesoros de Colombia, to cities like New York and Chicago, in the United States, in order to promote it and talk about the environmental experience accumulated in its manufacture.

Iván Lozano, manager of Tesoros de Colombia, explained that the company has a very clear objective and that is to help producers achieve the necessary registrations in Colombia and the United States to export coffee, and to continue accompanying the community in strengthening your business model. Today, Café Endémico is sold in Casabianca. Also, in the facilities of La Reserva Biopark, located in Cota (Cundinamarca). Likewise, it is usually taken to the city of Ibagué by order.

A community allied with conservation

This last part of the story could be defined as a win-win. Because, while the people of Casabianca have improved many details of their venture and have pledged to respect their agricultural frontier, halting its expansion —this as a condition for receiving the support that has emerged from Tesoros— at the same time, Tesoros de Colombia has been able to consolidate, also with the help of the community, its work focused on biocommerce and aimed at protecting the dotted frog.

This is necessary because the species is under pressure and in a Vulnerable state due to the loss of its forests, according to the Red Book of Amphibians of Colombia. Another problem that harms the stability of their populations is not only their reduced distribution—which increases their vulnerability—, but also the illegal trafficking of many of their individuals, who have been hunted to take them abroad and sell them illegally among collectors, aquarists or zoos. And, precisely, what Tesoros de Colombia seeks, with its presence in the region, is to stop this potential traffic. “This is how we have achieved it with other species, work with which we have defended, in turn, national sovereignty and its biodiversity, against the piracy that traditionally consumes our resources,” says Iván Lozano.

For this, the process of consolidating the reproduction in captivity of the frog is advancing, in order to, in the short term, export its offspring legally to Europe, among other continents. This is one of the many
modalities of biocommerce (commercialization of goods and services derived from biodiversity), a set of activities endorsed by the Political Constitution of Colombia and regulated by the National Association of
Environmental Licenses (ANLA).

The idea of Tesoros — work that it is currently carrying out in other regions of the country — is to legally export individuals of the species born in its laboratory, so that their demand can be met. In this way, those who begin to buy it legally will stop tolerating irregular and uncontrolled captures in the Tolima forests.

Restocking to support the species survival

For the moment, and for this specific case in Tolima, the attempt has already completed a first phase of collection some parental stock, which was followed up by the Casabianca community —a few frogs were
captured to begin their reproduction. Also, a second phase has been completed, called ‘management of specimens under professional and expert care’. And it is expected that, in 2023, the commercial phase can
be authorized by ANLA, which allows these copies to be sold in other countries and begin to stop their illegal demand.

As compensation for having been able to carry out the work, Tesoros de Colombia will lead a program to release and repopulate the species in its natural environment, to return to the habitat not only those few individuals that were initially captured, but also an additional and permanent quantity that will help consolidate a healthy population of the Andinobates dorisswansonae.

Two objectives are reinforced here: illegal trafficking is stopped through legal biocommerce and communities are supported with company resources, to actively involve them in the conservation of their
environment and their threatened species.

“We are very satisfied with the work we have done, in which our productivity has been combined with the scientific effort of Tesoros de Colombia, which may allow, in time, the long-term preservation of this frog that is so valuable to our environment” added Buriticá.

He recognizes that, in what has to do with his productive activity, it is necessary to perfect some details, so that the coffee harvest can consolidate. One of these challenges is summarized in the importance of
obtaining certifications that promote the commercialization of the Endemic Coffee, which would, in turn, allow obtaining resources to improve the sustainability of the landscape. This is perhaps an effort in
which everyone’s desires are focused, including those of that very particular, dotted, poisonous and multicolored frog.

This project has been selected by the Active Conservation Alliance to be supported as it meets all the requirements directed to preserve an entire ecosystem and endangered species while engaging local communities in an active conservation program.

Mountain Full of Trees and Plants with Lots of Vegetation Around

Colombian breeds, sells rare frogs to undercut animal traffickers

CUNDINAMARCA, Colombia — In a small farmhouse surrounded by cloud forest, Iván Lozano inspects dozens of glass containers that hold some of the world’s most coveted frogs.

The conservationist has been fighting the illegal trade in rare tropical frogs for years, risking his life and his checkbook to save the brightly colored, poisonous amphibians whose population in the wild is dwindling.

But Lozano doesn’t hunt down poachers and smugglers. He’s trying to undermine them by breeding exotic frogs legally and selling them at lower prices than specimens plucked by traffickers from Colombia’s jungles. His frog-breeding center Tesoros de Colombia, which translates to Treasures of Colombia, is among a handful of conservation programs around the world that are trying to curtail the trafficking of wild animals by providing enthusiasts with a more eco-friendly alternative: specimens bred in captivity.

“We can’t control the fact that in some countries it is legal to own these animals,” Lozano said. “But we want to make sure that collectors buy animals that are raised in captivity and are legally exported.”

Zoo-technologists Alejandra Curubo, left, and Ivan Ramos pack frogs for export to the US at the “Tesoros de Colombia” frog breeding center in Cundinamarca, Colombia
Zoo-technologists Alejandra Curubo, left, and Ivan Ramos pack frogs for export to the US at the “Tesoros de Colombia” frog breeding center in Cundinamarca, Colombia.AP

Lozano’s efforts to replace illegally captured poison dart frogs have made him well known among collectors in the United States, who are increasingly seeking legally traded specimens.

“Before there was no way you could get a histrionica legally,” said Julio Rodríguez, an experienced New York City collector, referring to the Harlequin Poison Frog by its scientific name. “If you saw one in a collection, it most likely came from the black market.”

Rodríguez said that since Tesoros de Colombia began exporting frogs to the United States six years ago prices for some coveted species have dropped significantly. The price tag on the Harlequin Frog dropped by 50 percent, he said. The Golden Dart Frog, another much-sought species, went from around $150 a few years ago to $30.

“We want prices to go down so much that it’s no longer profitable for traffickers to sell these frogs,” Lozano explained.

He said his company also helps collectors breed their own frogs, so they can flood the market with legally raised specimens, taking the pressure off those living in the wild. The frogs raised in captivity by Lozano are no longer poisonous because they have a different diet than wild specimens. But collectors still seek them for their brilliant color patterns.

“We make ourselves sustainable by moving on to new species,” said Lozano, who already has permits to export seven species, including the Red Lehmani, a frog so rare collectors refer to it as “the Holy Grail.” Lozano is currently seeking permission from Colombia’s government to export another 13 species that are under pressure from animal traffickers.

A Phyllobates bicolor
A Phyllobates bicolor.AP

But while some breeding efforts have helped to tackle the illegal trade, others have had unintended consequences.

Indonesia allows the export of 3 million captive-bred Tokay Geckos to global pet markets each year. But weak regulation has given corrupt companies the opportunity to sell off wild Geckos as Geckos bred in captivity, said Chris Shepherd a conservationist who worked in South East Asia for two decades with TRAFFIC, an environmental group.

Laura Tensen, a zoologist at the University of Johannesburg, said in South Africa, private game reserves that breed lions for hunting have created a new market for lion bones. South Africa now exports lion skeletons to Asia, where they are used for traditional medicine and this has given poachers in remote regions an additional incentive to go after wild lions.

“For some species captive breeding might help” to reduce trafficking, Tensen said. “But one market does not always replace the other.”

In a 2016 study, Tensen concluded that captive breeding programs are more likely to work when animals bred in captivity are just as desirable to customers as those taken from the wild. These programs are also more successful with species that are relatively cheap to breed and in countries where authorities are arresting traffickers.

“In countries where the risks of being caught are low, the prices for wild caught animals are always less than those of captive bred animals,” Shepherd said.

Lozano assigns ID numbers to his frogs, to make it harder for traffickers to sell wild frogs as frogs bred in captivity. But he has struggled to keep prices low because of the costs associated with securing export permits from the Colombian government.

Workers pack frogs for export to the U.S. at the "Tesoros de Colombia" frog breeding center in Cundinamarca, Colombia.

It took Lozano three years to secure his first export permit, exasperating two business partners, who eventually gave up on the venture. Lozano continued on his own and acquired a debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the breeding center afloat.

He has also battled online critics who have tried to undermine his business by spreading rumors on social media that he is illegally exporting frogs. Lozano believes the criticism comes from animal traffickers.

“For our own safety, we try not to disclose details of our location,” he said.

Lozano now wants to start a program to repopulate some forests with frogs bred in his lab.

Colombia is home to 734 frog species, more than any other country except Brazil. The Humboldt Institute, an environmental research group, says at least 160 amphibian species in Colombia are critically endangered.

“This is an urgent situation,” Lozano said. “If we don’t persist some frogs could become extinct.”