On the 13th of February a team of researchers, students, and animal keepers from the School of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, with the coordination and cooperation of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, reintroduced spadefoot toads from the Zoological Gardens' breeding colony back into nature.

The Eastern spadefoot toad is a critically endangered species in Israel. Its tadpoles are very large and require a lot of time for metamorphosis: several months from hatching to the terrestrial phase. Thus, in order to reproduce the spadefoot toads need seasonal water bodies that are able to retain a significantly large volume of water for several months.
The breeding colony in the Zoological Garden was established about four years ago, in order to serve as a temporary "Noah's ark" for the last of the newts and spadefoot toads of the Zvulun Valley populations. During that year, 2013, a shopping center was built on what remained of the Zvulun Valley swamps, which had once covered all the area that is known today as the Krayot, the industrial area, and Haifa port. The last water pond of this magnificent swamp area, the Checkpoint water pond, has given way to a shopping center.

Amphibian populations from different areas in the country slightly differ genetically from each other. Part of the uniqueness of each population is expressed in the way it is adapted to the local habitat, and part is a coincidental variance that currently has no functional importance but contributes to the species' genetic diversity. This is why it is specifically important to try and save the last remaining representatives of the Zvulun Valley population, although other newts and spadefoot toads live in other parts of Israel. The breeding colony in the Zoological Garden serves as a resource for reintroducing these populations back into nature, to a suitable location in the area from which they had originated or to a location nearby. Since most of the area has undergone massive development and there are no natural populations of spadefoot toads or newts there, the hope is that in the next few years an alternative winter pond will be established near the former Checkpoint winter pond. The new pond will have statutory protection from development of the area and could serve as a long-term natural habitat. 

This year, at last, the dedicated caring for the spadefoot toads has borne fruit: those that were collected as tadpoles from the Checkpoint winter pond four years ago have matured and bred. Clutches have been observed and thousands of tadpoles have hatched from the eggs.
About 2,000 tadpoles and several dozen adult toads have been released in two different areas, whose precise location is confidential. This release action constitutes a milestone in amphibian conservation in Israel: it is the first time that spadefoot toads from a breeding colony have been reintroduced back into nature. In Israel, no amphibian species has ever been reintroduced back into the area from which it had become extinct as a result of land development. We still have a lot of work to do before reaching this goal, but the spadefoot toads have already gone a long way, and the safe shores (of the seasonal winter pond) are already seen on the horizon. With a bit of luck and a lot of insistence, our spadefoot toads will reach it.

Releasing spadefoot toads back to nature

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