Free at Last!

We have fantastic news from the Houston toad program! On the morning of Friday, April 12th, we got the call from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that we had been crossing our fingers for – the “go for release” of our Leon county toads! Finally, three years after being collected from the wild as eggs, Red and her friends were finally going home.

This event is the first ever release of adult Houston toads from the Houston Zoo. Animals head-started in the facility are generally only kept a few weeks after metamorphosis and are thereby released as juveniles.  In the case of the Leon county toads, several unfortunate events prevented this particular group from being released after they were reared here at the facility.

The initial phone call from USFWS set off a flurry of events in the toad facility. It is no easy matter to pack up and ship out 600+ adult Houston toads!! With a rain event predicted mid-week, we were scrambling to get the toads out in enough time to give them a chance to acclimate to their new environment. In the world of the toad, rain means breeding, and getting more Houston toads to breed in the wild is one of our leading priorities!

With the help of our Houston toad interns and volunteers, we were able to pack up all of the Leon county toads Saturday afternoon. Dr. Lauren Howard of the Zoo’s veterinary team visually inspected every single toad being shipped out. Wow! I bet the doctors as the medical center can’t say that they’ve seen that many clients in a day!

After their health check-up, the toads were carefully loaded and transported to an outdoor facility outside of Bastrop State Park that is managed by our collaborators at Texas State University. We met up with graduate student Melissa Jones, to move the toads into several large, outdoor tubs where the toads would be allowed to acclimate to outdoor conditions for several days before being released. Melissa will be monitoring the released toads as part of her PhD dissertation work.

Loaded up and ready to go!

As soon as we placed the Leon county toads into these large holding tubs, which were deigned to be half water and half sandy shore (aka perfect toad habitat!) the male toads immediately started to call.  The sound was deafening in the quiet of the evening and honestly brought tears to my eyes. Though I know they were just “doing what toads do,” I would kind of like to think that they were saying “thank you…”

Goodbye and good luck!


Moving the Leon county toads to the Texas State facility was just the first stage of the release. To find out about the next step in their journey home, please check out the blog next week!

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