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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 20:29 GMT


Last frog croaks

A giant leap into extinction for the British pool frog

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The death has been announced of what scientists believe to be Britain's last surviving pool frog.

The species is one of a group of frogs known collectively as water frogs or green frogs.

It is thought to have been in Britain since about 300 AD at least, although for the last 150 years it had been confined to one site in Norfolk.

The defunct amphibian was found there in 1994. It was captured, for its own protection, and since then had lived at the home of a London scientist until its death earlier this week.

The pool frog is - or was - on the list of 172 rare and threatened British species on the government's national biodiversity action plan.

It differs from the common frog both in its colour, and in having inflatable sacs on the side of its face.

Chance of breeding lost

There had been hopes that the lone male would breed with female pool frogs from Sweden, as their genetic make-up is closest to its own.

If the breeding plan had worked, the young frogs would have been released into remote ponds in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

But now there appear to be only two possible ways of re-establishing the species in Britain.

One is to see if any do still exist, either in the wild or in captivity.

The other is the remote possibility of using DNA from the final specimen.

[ image: Gone . . . but somewhere perhaps a tadpole lurks?]
Gone . . . but somewhere perhaps a tadpole lurks?
English Nature, the government's nature conservation adviser, is doubtful, but does not dismiss the idea entirely.

"Jurassic Puddle ? It's early days - but it might conceivably be possible", said a spokesman.

If the DNA idea does not work, and if no other pool frogs come to light, the death will mark the end of an elaborate attempt at re-introduction.

Anglian Water was providing £30,000 over two years to support the breeding project.

The Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, described the company's involvement as "a leap forward for the pool frog".

In the end, old age seems to have defeated the best-laid plans of the conservationists.

The late frog is thought to have been about six years old, and although his guardian had hoped he would emerge from hibernation, he died in his winter sleep.

"He was getting on", said English Nature. "He was no tadpole."

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