Conserving Lake Titicaca frogs and Junin giant frogs
Photo credit: Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark


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About Peru

Peru is a highly diverse country split into three geographic regions - the coast, jungle, and highlands - and is home to a wide range of biodiversity. Although the Amazon is famous for being an ecological hot spot for amphibian species, Denver Zoo is working to save critically endangered species in two aquatic ecosystems of the high Andes. Located on the border of Bolivia and Peru is Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 12,500 ft. above sea level, and home to Lake Titicaca frogs. A few hundred miles away, at 13,500 ft. above sea level, is Lake Junin, the largest lake entirely within Peru. Lake Junin is home to two species of endangered frogs and several endemic bird species.

Why Amphibians of the High Andes?

The Lake Titicaca frog (Telmatobius culeus) is biologically unique; it is the world's largest entirely aquatic frog. As the top endemic predator in Lake Titicaca, it is ecologically important, and as an indicator species, it provides an important measure of ecosystem health for people and wildlife. Unfortunately, T. culeus is recognized as critically endangered by IUCN. Likewise, the Junin frog (Telmatobius macrostomus) is an indicator species, critically important for ecosystem health in its habitat at the headwaters of the Amazon basin. As with many amphibian populations in crisis around the world, these species are imperiled by social and environmental threats, declining at an unprecedented rate, and could face extinction in the wild in the near future. The rapid decline of their populations can be attributed to two known and challenging threats: pollution related to mines and improperly treated sewage and overharvesting by people for human consumption.

Answering Key QUestions

Denver Zoo is working to develop a more complete and science-driven understanding of the disease ecology, biology, taxonomy and threats related to the Lake Titicaca and Junin frog. This includes developing, implementing, and training Peruvian colleagues on rigorous and systematic population monitoring protocols and using frog DNA markers to identify species in the lake as well as which ones are being sold illegally in local and international markets. We’re also studying their breeding ecology in captivity in case we need to develop assurance populations, and in 2018, Denver Zoo became the first zoo in the northern hemisphere to successfully breed Lake Titicaca frogs.

The Threat

In parts of Peru, there's an old culinary delicacy that consists of liquefying the Lake Titicaca frog to cure a wide range of ailments.

Warning: some viewers may find the video upsetting or disturbing.

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Conservation Approach in Peru

Denver Zoo is committed to saving these unique endemic species through a comprehensive conservation program that includes capacity building, public awareness, conservation education initiatives, and working with local residents of the lake areas to develop alternative sources of income.

Community Engagement

Public outreach is a critical component for successful conservation of the Lake Titicaca frog; in 2012, Denver Zoo partnered with Rare, a global leader in using behavior change to achieve long-lasting conservation results, to develop a social marketing campaign. The campaign consisted of posters, stickers, mass media promotions, and community events to raise awareness, promote positive attitudes, and encourage pro-conservation behaviors toward the species.

Huachipa Zoo and Titicaca National Reserve facilitate annual Species Celebration Days.

  • In Lima, Huachipa Zoo hosts an annual Frog Day where school children participate in hands-on education activities to promote knowledge of, positive attitudes toward, and conservation action for the Lake Titicaca frog.
  • To reach audiences directly connected to the lake ecosystem, Titicaca National Reserve hosts an annual Symbolic Species Day celebrating its two animal symbols, one of which is the frog. An average of 2,000 community members, teachers, and parents from the nine administrative districts surrounding the Reserve attend each year.

In cooperation with the Titicaca National Reserve, Denver Zoo and Huachipa Zoo have supported Ecological Brigades (Eco-Brigades). Eco-Brigades are an initiative of Lake Titicaca National Reserve, made up of more than 300 high school volunteer students and teachers who are focused on protecting the environment - in particular Lake Titicaca.

Recently, Denver Zoo added an innovative component to the education and research objectives of the program by collaborating with a local high school in Colorado, USA, to provide real-world application of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning and design-thinking to a holistic biodiversity conservation project. The students created an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) as a research tool that staff in Titicaca National Reserve can use to improve their understanding of the Lake Titicaca frog’s habitat.

Conservation Peru Capacity Building

Capacity Building

  • Sound conservation projects must address both the social and economic needs of a community, providing skills that empower and build local capacity. In 2010, Denver Zoo and CPSG Mesoamerica co-facilitated the first ever Conservation Strategy Planning Workshop in Peru for the Lake Titicaca Frog, bringing together and empowering key stakeholders (including Huachipa Zoo and Titicaca National Reserve) to create a strategy for addressing the decline of the Lake Titicaca frog.
  • In 2013, Denver Zoo expanded its presence in Peru to Lake Junin. Denver Zoo staff co-authored the first ever Conservation Strategy for the Junin Frog which, similar to the strategy for the Lake Titicaca frog, provided a foundation for prioritizing conservation actions for another amphibian in need of attention.
  • Since those workshops, Denver Zoo has supported undergraduate and graduate research at Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University, ranger training for Titicaca National Reserve and Junin National Reserve staff, education and interpretation training for Huachipa Zoo and the Reserve, and provided for professional exchanges between the Reserve, Huachipa Zoo, and Denver Zoo.
  • Denver Zoo helped establish a local women’s collective in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Peru, called Ccori Ampara, “Hands of Gold,” in Aymara, the women’s native language. The collective, made up of 30 women, makes a variety of frog-related handicrafts which they sell to community members and tourists. By incorporating frog themes into their handicrafts, the women help spread the awareness to their communities about the importance of the Lake Titicaca frog while gaining supplemental income.
Lake Titicaca Frog as part of Denver Zoo's conservation efforts in Peru


Conservation cannot be done alone, and Denver Zoo is thankful for our strong network of collaborators that contribute to the conservation of frogs in Peru:

  • Huachipa Zoo
  • Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University
  • Titicaca National Reserve/Peruvian National Service for Natural Protected Areas
  • Junin National Reserve/Peruvian National Service for Natural Protected Areas
  • National University of the Altiplano
  • Regional Government of Puno, Peru
  • Nelida Apaza
  • Grupo RANA
  • Ccori Ampara Collective
  • St. Vrain Valley School District Innovation Center
  • US Peace Corps - Peru

Conservation Success in Peru

Highlights of conservation success in protecting the Lake Titicaca frog in Peru

  • In 2016, the Denver Zoo team provided the first published documentation of chytrid fungus on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
  • Denver Zoo was the first zoo in the northern hemisphere to successfully breed Lake Titicaca frogs (in the Tropical Discovery exhibit), and we have provided dozens of frogs to a number of other zoos and aquariums to date.
  • We have supported Huachipa Zoo in Lake Titicaca frog exhibit design, interpretation, education programs, and animal care efforts.
  • We developed the first conservation strategies for the Lake Titicaca frog and the Junin frog, both published on the IUCN website.
  • The Denver Zoo outreach campaign successfully elevated local, national, and global awareness of the Lake Titicaca frog and helped it become one of Peru’s top conservation priorities.
  • International media coverage of the Lake Titicaca frog project has included dozens of articles in Peruvian, US and international mass media outlets, including coverage by National Geographic, The Guardian, Wired, The Denver Post.