efe-epaBy Susana Madera Quito

A distinctive Andean toad believed extinct in Ecuador for more than 30 years has been rediscovered by a group of researchers in a joint project of San Francisco University of Quito (USFQ) and the Natural History Museum, London.

Diego Cisneros, director of the Terrestrial Zoology Laboratory at USFQ, told EFE that the discovery was made thanks to a project launched two years ago to study amphibian and reptile species "that have gone missing" in locations where they were originally found.

That brought researchers to the Dracula Orchidology Reserve, which is protected by the private Ecuadorian foundation Ecominga. There, close to a stream, they found two Andean toads of the "Rhaebo colomai" species, both in good health.

"This species apparently always had low population densities. Obviously with the enormous habitat destruction, the places where it can live now are very restricted, and we believe the Dracula Reserve is possibly one of its last refuges on the planet," Cisneros said.

In 1984, a Dutch researcher wrote a description of the small amphibian, but since then the experts haven't managed to spot "Rhaebo colomai" again, which got it a place on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to Cisneros, various toads related to this Andean species from Carchi on the Colombian border have been found to have "antibiotic and anticarcinogenic functions" and other medical advantages, though in this case "several years of research" are needed to ascertain them.

Such research requires financing to find out, first of all, how many Andean toads are left and where they are.

If specimens are found outside the reserve, researchers will work with Ecominga to purchase those territories because "agriculture and mining are finishing off the woodlands for good, and if we don't buy them, there's no way to preserve them," Cisneros said. He calculated that this second phase of the project would cost between $100,000 and $200,000.

In a third phase, scientific studies of molecular genetics and substances would require more financing for what Cisneros sees as a a genuine "race against the clock," due to the vulnerability of the species and the destruction of its habitat.