The dusky gopher frog, also known as the Mississippi gopher frog, has been on the endangered species list since 2001. It is now considered to be critically endangered, just one step away from being completely extinct in the wild. The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Gautier has released over a thousand dusky gopher frogs into the wild since May in the hopes of allowing the species to repopulate. On Friday, June 12th, the refuge released a batch of 56 of them, making the total number 1,074. The frog population originated in Saucier, Harrison County, but was relocated to the refuge in order to allow oversight and eventual release into the wild.
Shrinking wet-pine savannah to blame for depopulation of gopher frogs.
The gopher frogs are threatened mainly not by their numerous natural predators, but by a rapidly shrinking ecosystem. According to Melissa Perez, a ranger at Sandhill Crane, the savannah that the refuge is located on is itself endangered and shrinking. This is a most unfortunate occurrence to ecologists, as the refuge is now home to two critically endangered species- the gopher frogs and the Mississippi sandhill crane that became the refuge’s namesake.
Frogs are hatched in Saucier, monitored at Sandhill Crane, then released into wild.
The gopher frogs being saved at the wildlife refuge hatched in Saucier, a few miles away. While in the tadpole stage, they’re transferred to the refuge, where they’re split up and placed into one of fifty tanks containing simulated natural habitat materials- water, pine straw, and sweet gum leaves. Once they reach adulthood and become frogs, they are fitted with tracking devices on their left legs, taken to Vancleave, Mississippi, and turned loose. The tracking devices will be used to monitor the frogs’ progress, though any measurable success is a few years off.
Success or failure of amphibians’ relocation won’t be known for a while.
While the gopher frogs’ relocation process only takes a few months from hatching to release, it will be a few years before any progress can be gauged. Male specimens become mature reproductively at the age of just one, but the females don’t reach fertility until between two and four years of age. Therefore, the earliest signs of success or failure are at least two years away.