Extinct? Think again. The startling rediscovery 50 years in the making

 
 
 

Francois Becker was traversing the Chimanimani Mountains of Zimbabwe when he heard a familiar sound. At first he thought it was just a cricket. As he followed the sound, his excitement grew. He went in the call’s direction and found something remarkable: the cave squeaker, a tiny, speckled frog that hadn’t been seen since 1962. With his keen ear, he had made an astounding rediscovery. When Becker picked the frog up, his hands were shaking so much from excitement he let it go and it escaped. But he continued the search and found more, bringing the amphibian back to the world.

Arthroleptis troglodyte, or cave squeaker, was considered critically endangered and possibly extinct after over 50 years of going unseen. Becker became the second person to lay eyes on it after Donald Broadley, the man who discovered the rare frog nearly six decades ago. The cave squeaker grows to about 25 milimetres in length, and can only be found in a small area of Zimbabwe. Becker, who has a master’s degree in statistical ecology, was part of a research team on a mission to find it. “I’ve been really interested in frogs for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little kid,” Becker says. Because of the small area that the cave squeaker lives in, it is at greater risk of disappearing. But scientists are hoping to increase the population while protecting the area from an influx of researchers.

South Africa’s own frog species need protection, especially if we don’t want to go 50 years thinking they’re gone. “There are many highly endangered and threatened frog species in South Africa, particularly ones close to urbanisation,” Becker says. Thanks to him, the cave squeaker has a strong chance of survival, and we now have our first recording and photographs of the tiny frog. “These species are very important to protect,” Becker says. “Once you lose them you can never replace them.”