Conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society fly out to Costa Rica today (May 2) to spearhead vital research into a tiny endangered frog.
They will be carrying out a survey into the numbers of lemur leaf frogs which are bright green and small enough to sit on a fingertip.
Their population has fallen by 80 per cent over the past 15 years because of a virus, called chytrid disease, which has attacked amphibians across the world.
The Bristol Zoological Society study is part of a campaign which has won praise from naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
He said: “I wholeheartedly support the campaign to save the lemur leaf frog. It is after all, one of the world’s most unusual and rarest amphibians – and it is in real trouble.”
The Bristol Zoological Society team is working with a number of other organisations on Project Lemur Frog and is trying to discover the number of these distinctive frogs and where they are living.
Dr Grainne McCabe, head of field conservation and science at Bristol Zoological Society, is making the 5,000 mile journey to Central America with conservation science lecturer Tim Bray and senior reptiles’ keeper Adam Davis.
They will be spending three weeks surveying parts of four national parks in Costa Rica between a range of volcanos.
Dr McCabe said no-one had attempted a survey of this kind for many years and it was important to discover more about the populations of lemur leaf frogs.
She said the study would concentrate on areas where the lemur leaf frogs lived to see if any populations that have survived the chytrid disease can be found.
Dr McCabe said: “Their population has declined by more than 80 per cent in recent decades making it very important to understand what the remaining population size is and its distribution.”
“We will be carrying out nocturnal surveys because frogs tend to be more active at night and listening for their distinctive calls in the areas where we know they like to breed.”
It will be challenging because as well as being tiny lemur leaf frogs have the ability to camouflage themselves at night turning reddish brown.
Dr McCabe said: “This is an important survey which Bristol Zoological Society is spearheading. If we find these frogs we can start to plan more direct conservation actions to help save this species.”
She said that could involve further research to countries neighbouring Costa Rica in the future.