PERU: Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems

Titicaca Water Frogs + Lake Junín Frogs


Both the Titicaca water frog (TWF) and Lake Junín frog (LJF) are sentinel species, which means biologists can use these animals’ health to measure the overall condition of the ecosystems in which they live. As two of the world’s largest aquatic frogs, their classification as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) means that not just the frogs, but also their namesake lakes—as well as the people and animals that these lakes support—are under significant threat.

Denver Zoo and our partners are working to understand and mitigate these threats through research, conservation breeding, community engagement, capacity building and more. Here’s a quick overview of our efforts and impact in alpine Peru.

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DENVER ZOO’S PERUVIAN FIELDWORK BEGAN IN 2008, THE YEAR OF THE FROG, as all of our programs begin—with thorough research to understand the specific problems these animals are facing. Our conservation scientists found that both frog species were facing four key threats:

POLLUTION from nearby mines and municipal wastewater
POACHING for human consumption in frog smoothies
INTRODUCED SPECIES including trout
INTRODUCED DISEASE including infectious chytrid

AS A ZOO-BASED CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION, DENVER ZOO UNDERSTANDS  that long-term change requires a spectrum of holistic conservation efforts in the communities we serve. Here’s a quick overview of the multi-pronged approach we take to achieve conservation solutions for our Peruvian field programs.

Foundational Research

Denver Zoo uses ecological and social science to better understand the ecology and range of human threats related to Titicaca water frogs and Junin frogs. We work with Peruvian colleagues to monitor frog populations and identify which species are being sold illegally. A team led by our veterinarians documented the first case of chytrid on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.

Junin Frog Underwater - Hero

Conservation Breeding

In partnership with Lima’s Huachipa Zoo, we brought a small breeding population of 20 TWFs descended from frogs confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade to our Tropical Discovery exhibit. More than 250 TWFs have been sent to zoos and aquariums in the U.S. and Europe, to ensure this assurance population can flourish under human care.

Conservation Peru Slide Show 04

Capacity Building

Denver Zoo partners with key conservation authorities—from Peruvian zoos, universities and nature reserves to the IUCN. We were proud to co-author the first published conservation strategies for TWFs and LJFs. We also support research, training and professional exchange programs for our partners.

Conservation Peru Slide Show 07

Local + Global Outreach

Collective efforts to raise awareness through Species Awareness Days, Eco-Brigade volunteer groups and more are working! The Peruvian government has declared TWFs and LJFs as species of priority and mandated the  development of regional and national conservation plans. Internationally, an outreach campaign conducted by Denver Zoo successfully elevated the local, national, and global conservation profile of the Titicaca water frog.

Conservation Peru Slide Show 02
As we continue to elevate endemic amphibians as top conservation priorities here, Denver Zoo will also expand our work with other threatened species in Latin America, including Chilean flamingos. We’re currently engaged with Peruvian non-profit ECOAN and Junín National Reserve, conducting critical research so that a long-term flamingo conservation strategy may take shape—and soon, take flight.

Our Partners

Denver Zoo is grateful for the network of partner organizations working in Peru and on the home front to affect meaningful change:

Huachipa Zoo
Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University
Titicaca + Junin National Reserves
National University of the Altiplano
Regional Government of Puno, Peru
Grupo RANA  | ECOAN | US Peace Corps
Ccori Ampara Collective
Innovation Center of St. Vrain Valley Schools