Last week we were happy to announce that the Leon county toads, a group of toads that had been housed at the Houston Zoo’s toad facility since 2010, had finally been given approval for release back into the wild. On the first leg of their journey, the toads were transported from the Houston Zoo to an outdoor facility managed by Texas State University. The facility is in the county of Bastrop, one of the few counties in Texas where Houston toads still remain in the wild.
The facility consists of ~40 large tubs filled with sand, water, and vegetation. When the Leon county toads arrived at the Texas State facility, groups of sixty toads were placed into the tubs. Here the toads were given an opportunity to acclimate to the outdoors before actually being released into the environment.
The “release” itself was staged over the course of several evenings. Graduate student Melissa Jones from Texas State was in charge of orchestrating each of the toad releases. Before they could be released, Melissa had to weigh, measure, photograph, and give each toad an identifying mark. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to assist Melissa in processing the toads one of these evenings.
First, we had to find the toads hidden in either the sand or in the water of the tubs, and then take their measurements. Melissa was very patient showing us how to perform these techniques in the field – it was far more difficult than taking these same measurements in the comfort of the quarantine building at the zoo! Collecting all of this data took several hours, but it was an amazing night. The gentle winds blowing through the pine trees kept us company and were additionally treated to the singing of several other wild amphibians.
After processing, the toads were transferred to smaller bins and driven out to a pond near the holding facility. We stumbled through the dark with flashlights, carefully clutching our precious cargo as we made our way through the brush. Surprisingly, we did not disperse our charges at the pond’s edge; instead, under Melissa’s direction, we circled the pond and placed toads in small holes that we dug in the soil with our hands. We made holes under trees or other brush, placing two or three toads in each. By spreading out and hiding the toads in this way, we were ensuring that we were not making a “toad buffet” for hungry predators.
Slowly but surely, some of the little toads dug themselves out of their holes and made their way to the pond. Like any good “toad mom,” I got a little teary eyed watching these animals that I have taken care of for so long take their first few hops into this strange new place, but I take comfort knowing that they have finally made it back where they belong. This is what wildlife conservation is all about. Thanks to everyone who has supported the Houston toad program and conservation programs everywhere!