Like most young boys I had a fascination with dinosaurs. I remember my disappointment when I realized I would never see these giant reptiles covered in armored plates, spikes, shields, and other body ornaments. However, I grew up a few blocks from the old California Academy of Sciences and spent many summer days with my nose pressed against glass cages filled with cobras, exotic lizards, and brightly colored amphibians. Looking closely I saw the same fantastic colors and shapes I saw in my dinosaur books – only smaller. This began my study in reptiles and amphibians that continues to this day. Over the years I watched as conservation issues centered around cuddly mammals or brilliant birds while most reptiles and amphibians were feared, shunned, and misunderstood. Now I spend a good deal of time observing these amazing creatures through my camera so I can share their natural grace and beauty that captured the imagination of my youth.
Up to one half of the near 6000 known amphibians species are in decline or in danger of declining. Numerous frog species have gone extinct in recent decades. A hot topic of study is a fungus that attacks the permeable skin of amphibians and ultimately kills them. This spreading and highly contagious agent has been implicated in the disappearance in a number of frog species in Central and South America as well as in Australia and it is turning up with more frequency in North America and Europe. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many remote regions in the tropics and to work on a couple of projects hoping to save some of these frogs. The harlequin toad, Atelopus varius, disappeared from Costa Rica and was presumed extinct.
A few years ago a very small population was re-discovered in a remote canyon. Researchers and I are studying this population to learn its size and see what effect, if any, the fungus may be having on these pretty toads. At another study site in the mountains of Costa Rica we’ve witnessed the forest streams near silenced by this epidemic. It is humbling to be in regions where very few people on this planet will ever visit and to photograph these amazing creatures. Sometimes it gets depressing thinking these may be the last documentations of these animals’ existence. However, if my photographs can lessen people’s fears, deepen public appreciation, and ultimately help preserve these animals and their habitats then I feel I’ve done a good job.
Tim Paine’s photography http://amphibios.org/