Extinction in Progress


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Haiti is known to be the poorest country of the western hemisphere and is still struggling to get on its feet from a disastrous earthquake, but Haiti’s real problem is the complete degradation of its natural resources. Natural forests cover today less than two percent of its territory. Scientists predict a mass extinction of Haiti’s biodiversity. No other country has more amphibians threatened by extinction.

A team of scientists and naturalists travel on foot, by car, boat and helicopter to the most remote locations of the country to investigate the current state of Haiti’s biodiversity and surprisingly discover almost 50 new species and rediscover species thought to be lost. The extent of discoveries is extremely rare in the world of natural science.

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Extinction-in-Progress-DVD-cover_optHaiti is known to be the poorest country of the western hemisphere and is still struggling to get on its feet from a disastrous earthquake, but Haiti’s real problem is the complete degradation of its natural resources. Natural forests cover today less than two percent of its territory. Scientists predict a mass extinction of Haiti’s biodiversity.

A team of scientists and naturalists travel on foot, by car, boat and helicopter to the most remote locations of the country to investigate the current state of Haiti’s biodiversity and surprisingly discover almost 50 new species and rediscover species thought to be lost. The extent of discoveries is extremely rare in the world of natural science.

A combined effort by a local NGO, Dr. Blair Hedges (evolutionary biologist, Center for Biodiversity at Temple University),  and the Philadelphia Zoo led to the creation of a breeding program in the zoo of highly endangered amphibians and a cryobanking program.

Also one of the most endangered mammals of the world, the Hispaniolan Solenodon, and other rare species are encountered.

Duration: 56 mins.
Format: HD 1080/30p, Stereo
Language: English
Subtitles: English / Spanish

Director/DP: Jurgen Hoppe
Producers: Jurgen Hoppe and Dr. Blair Hedges

Haiti, USA, 2014

Official Selection “Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, Washington” 2014
Official Selection “Ecozine Intl. Film Festival, Zaragoza”, Spain 2014
Official Selection “Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival”, 2014
Official Selection “Life Sciences Film Festival, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014

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  1. staffadmin

    “Extinction in Progress portrays the story of scientists working to preserve, conserve, and save this and hundreds of other species in Haiti – and, I must add, it is one of the most outstanding DVDs I have reviewed”.
    Richard Lord, Jr.
    American Biology Teacher
    Nov/Dec 2015

  2. staffadmin

    Extinction in Progress is highly recommended. This is a comprehensive view of what is necessary to preserve biodiversity in Haiti. The efforts of the Haitian government, the Audubon Society of Haiti and the programs at Temple and the Philadelphia Zoo have little hope of successfully conserving Haiti’s remaining wilderness areas unless the nearly insurmountable problem of Haitian poverty can be solved. The charcoal trade, along with isolated subsistence farming in the forest may be the only means of making a living in this impoverished nation. Though the impacts on Haitian biodiversity are recognized, there is no condemnation of the folks who can do no other in order to survive.

    Nov 5, 2015
    Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano,
    formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

    Read the entire review at EDUCATIONAL MEDIA REVIEWS ONLINE

  3. staffadmin

    There are some places in the world where
    you hope to see positive developments,

    talk about progress, relief and hope.

    But the more you learn about their history,
    failed attempts of their inhabitants to thrive

    as a functional society and
    study their most likely difficult future,

    the only chance you get
    is to follow the effort of some,

    hoping that their work marks the beginning of change.

    Such a place is Haiti.

    Haiti is known for its people, its traditions
    and artistic expressions, which crisscross

    between themes of a bright future
    far away from reality and eternal pain.

    And there are the devastating natural disasters
    and widespread poverty

    reflected by the media
    as long as our attention span permits.

    Little is known about the disaster looming
    on the horizon in Ayiti Kiskeya, the land of mountains.

    Haiti occupies the western third of the island Hispaniola.
    Its only neighbor is the Dominican Republic.

    Most of its territory, which is almost
    equal in size to the state of Massachusetts,

    consists of mountain chains reaching
    impressive heights of 8,800 feet.

    They are among the highest mountains of
    the North and South American east coast.

    Being an island for about 80 million years with
    a tropical climate and extensive rainfall,

    as well as high and low elevations were
    favorable conditions for the development

    of an extraordinary diversity
    of plant and animal life on Hispaniola.

    About 6,000 plant species and hundreds of reptiles
    and amphibians on this tropical island

    are known to science.

    As diverse nature developed and displayed
    itself during millions of years of evolution,

    extinction was always part of the process.

    Caused by geological upheaval,
    catastrophic tsunamis and the ice age,

    species were eliminated and new ones arose.

    Events have changed.

    Today, globally, humans are primarly
    responsible for the loss of biodiversity,

    resulting in the massive extinction of species.

    And Haiti is on the top of the list of affected countries.

    It is long overdue to face Haiti’s real tragedy,
    the loss of its natural heritage

    and its possible or even most likely, loss of future.

    For many decades indiscriminate deforestation
    has been and continues to be

    one of the main threats to biodiversity.

    But when natural forests shrink
    to levels found today in Haiti,

    the threat becomes a desaster.

    In 1940 30% of Haiti’s land was still covered by forests.

    Numbers dropped to 10% by 1970.

    Natural forests cover today
    less than 2% of Haiti’s territory.

    Rivers and creeks disappeared forever.

    Massive amounts of waters fill up
    the dry riverbeds only during rainy seasons.

    Floodwaters carry unprotected fertile soil,
    used only for a short time to nurture beans

    and other crops in the mountains, to the ocean,

    leaving behind destruction and
    broad highways of rocks and stones.

    With a population of 10 million and a demographic
    growth of more than 2%, lack of infrastructure,

    no sustainable agriculture as well as
    a growing need for cheap energy sources,

    traditionally charcoal,
    a positive outlook becomes almost impossible

    for the western part of Hispaniola.

    Many have given up on Haiti.
    Too little, too late, they say.

    Most would agree if there weren’t those,
    who still believe in a future for Haiti,

    if there weren’t scientists and professionals,
    who act and do everything possible

    to know the extent of Haiti’s surviving biodiversity
    trying to save as much as possible, as soon as possible,

    the environment of Haiti would cease to exist.

    A leader of those who believe in Haiti’s future
    is Philippe Bayard,

    president of the Societé du Audubon d’Haiti,
    the Haitian Audubon Society.

    The Audubon Society Haiti is a
    non-profit organization created in 2003

    with the mission of conserving the biodiversity of
    the natural ecosystems of Haiti and its satellite islands.

    The society was created by Haitians,
    that are conscious of the need to conserve

    because of the vast degradation
    that we can observe in Haiti.

    A leader of the science community actively helping
    to explore and save Haiti’s biodiversity,

    is Professor Dr. Blair Hedges, an
    evolutionary biologist of Penn State University,

    who is dedicated to the study
    of Caribbean reptiles and amphibians.

    In Haiti many species are threatened
    with extinction, about 85% of the frogs,

    and this is a serious problem because

    very soon some of these species will go extinct
    and probably in large numbers.

    Essentially it could be a massive extinction event.

    Working together, they initiated an action plan to evaluate
    the current state of Haiti’s reptiles and amphibians

    with the cooperation of the Haitian government.

    Over the period of three years a research team
    travelled to the remaining tropical forests of Haiti

    by car, foot, boat and helicopter
    to discover new species,

    re-discover lost ones and launch an ambitious
    project to save the most endangered ones.

    Thanks to updated satellite data, Blair Hedges
    previously selected several areas for research

    that had original forest patches left.

    These patches could still support a considerable
    biodiversity. Some areas had never been visited

    by researchers before and thus
    they were unknown to science.

    Three biological hotspots are on the top of the list:
    the Massiv de la Hotte, a mountain range

    at the tip of the Tiburon peninsula, the Massiv de la
    Selle mountain range and La Gonave island,

    which was the first to be visited.

    The expedition team departs from the capital
    Port-au-Prince heading northwest in order

    to cross the Saint-Marc channel towards Anse-à-Galets,
    the port of La Gonave island.

    The coastline on the mainland seems almost idyllic,
    though not far from the city, life takes a different pace,

    a reminder of the once popular
    tourist destination Haiti was.

    In the morning the boat is ready for take off
    with 5 team members and a cameraman on board:

    Einar Madsen, member of the Haitian Audubon Society,
    Professor Dr. Blair Hedges,

    Dominican naturalist and photographer
    Miguel Landestoy,

    Dr. Robin Moore, amphibian conservation specialist

    and resource ecologist Joel Timyan.

    The team arrives at La Gonave, which encompasses
    340 square miles and is home to 80,000 inhabitants.

    Most goods arrive by boat; their transport to
    stores and warehouses is organized.

    Soon enough the main export commodity of
    the island becomes visible, charcoal.

    Ferries leave daily to the mainland.

    The charcoal is being sold in Port-au-Prince,
    where the best prices can be obtained.

    Anse-à-Galets is the largest town of the island
    with few vehicles, no paved roads

    and people waiting patiently to fill their buckets
    with water from public wells.

    Garbage piles litter the outskirts of the town.

    Local money circulates as everyone tries to sell
    something, from charcoal to chicken.

    After a short stop at the hotel,
    the crew decides to take off immediately

    to explore the north coast of the island
    in search of habitats and reptiles.

    The dirt road leads to an improvised shipyard,
    where work continues as soon as

    wood arrives from the mainland.

    Large wooden beams to finish the boats are rare.

    The adjacent charcoal production is the best example
    of the size of the trees and bushes available in the area.

    But still, in Port-au-Prince millions of people
    are waiting for the shipments,

    the size or efficiency of the charcoal is of no
    importance, meals have to be cooked.

    The team passes a batch of coconut palms
    and decides to have a closer look.

    The coconut trash piles are ideal for reptiles.

    They provide moisture, cooler temperatures

    and insects are abundant as a food source.

    And soon enough the team is successful.

    This is an adult Hypsirhynchus.

    It just crawled up underneath
    the dead coconuts and palms.

    Beautiful animal.

    They eat lizards mostly…rare thing.

    Very nice.

    I haven’t seen any Sphaerodactylus yet.

    This is curtissi. It’s an anguid lizard.

    They look like skinks but they are not.
    Thery are called galliwasps.

    This species occurs in dry areas in Hispaniola,

    only on Hispaniola.

    They get a little bit bigger than this.
    This is kind of typical habitat.

    Oh, oh, oh, snake!

    Got it?

    No, no, no, oh yeah!

    You found another lizard?


    So, this is Hypsirhynchus parvifrons.

    It’s another species of snake.

    Ants stung me there, but that’s ok.

    This is a juvenile…

    we got an adult, good job!

    Excellent, this is an adult of the other
    one we got before.

    It’s a Hypsirhynchus parvifrons,
    another type of racer.

    So, these are diurnal snakes.

    Make sense that they are active here at daytime.

    The randomly chosen site next to
    mangrove forests continues to surprise.

    So, this is Sphaerodactylus.

    We are not sure what it is.

    I don’t know.

    And it is around this palm tree and palm trash.

    It could be an adult or sub-adult.
    They don’t get much bigger than this.

    And we saw eggs when we came in here.

    Here we found something that came out of the eggs.
    Very interesting.

    We’ll figure out later what it is.
    It could be something new.

    The joy of the team having encountered
    more than expected

    changed quickly as the journey continued
    passing charcoal producers

    They wait in piles of garbage, which has been
    washed ashore by the currents from Port-au-Prince

    finding occasionally a new purpose.

    The team continues in the morning
    travelling towards the interior of the island.

    Here elevations rise up to 2,500 feet.

    The dirt road passes the few
    productive plains of the island.

    The task of the day is to find isolated, humid areas.

    Shortly after, the team is able to follow a trail into a
    small canyon used by peasants to get fresh water.

    As usual the team catches a lot of attention and
    people follow the group to be a part of the action.

    The site is surprising.

    The rising transparent water offers a completely
    different view of this mostly arid island.

    The team starts its work and a snake is again
    the first animal to be encountered,

    a Hispaniolan hog-nosed racer.

    This snake I am photographing
    is Hypsirhynchus ferox,

    a dry adapted species in Hispaniola,

    known from La Gonave already.

    It’s here in the afternoon, late afternoon,
    about 4 – 4:30 pm,

    just kind of resting next to a revene,

    may be waiting for some food item to come by, which
    would be a lizard like an Anolis we just saw,

    I am going to collect it right now.

    It’s a rear-fanged snake.

    The poison would be very mild. It would have to bite
    my at a special place like right between there

    to really inject any venom.

    So, it’s not really a dangerous species.

    Very pretty.

    What they often do is they release a musk,
    which has an odor

    that might cause a predator to release it.

    So, that’s Hypsirhynchus ferox.

    This is a young one. Adults get two or three feet long.

    You see, it’s not even trying to bite.

    The search continues and this time a
    Lesser sharp-nosed treesnake shows its beauty

    although the observing crowd is not totally convinced.

    Uromacer frenatus, right?

    Brown with a green head.

    You can see, it’s not trying to bite.

    It’s actually quite dossil.

    But you can see also how the behaviour
    of the snake mimics a true vine.

    It’s either keeping its head really stiff or, like right now,
    it’s moving it, like a vine would move with the wind.

    Crossing the hillside the team is lucky
    to find a variety of small reptiles

    led by the long-tailed desert grass anole, a dwarf gecko,
    the very special Gonave curlytail and

    well, nobody knows yet, a lizard new to science,

    which confirms that Haiti’s wildlife
    still keeps some secrets.

    The dirt road leads to the west coast of
    La Gonave, to Point La Raquette.

    Although it ranks as the second
    largest town of the island,

    it is by far not as busy as Anse-à-Galets.

    The town is idyllic.

    A flock of Hispaniola’s palm chat
    enjoy the abundance of fruits.

    Photos are taken since La Gonave
    is home of a unique sub-species.

    The expedition ends better than expected,
    but it is clear that action is needed to stop

    the destruction of the few habitats left
    for the wildlife of La Gonave.

    While departing everybody remembers the words of
    Einar Madsen, member of the Haitian Audubon Society.

    My family has been in the coffee business
    for over 100 years

    and it has saddened me to see
    the degradation of nature in Haiti,

    specially the trees and the forests.There are people,
    that have been used for generations to cut trees,

    but we reached a point right now in the country,
    where we have to do something about it.

    If we don’t do anything, we will reach
    the state of desertification very soon.

    When you come here and see it first hand,
    you see the actual trees being cut

    and complete areas, that are denuded of vegetation,

    it looks like a lunar landscape.

    It really drives home the point that these species
    are gone forever when this happens.

    For me it’s a very real thing because
    I am seeing it all the time. Every time I come here

    the forests are fewer and fewer and so
    I know that time is running out

    to save the biodiversity.

    Professor Dr. Blair Hedges and resource ecologist
    Joel Timyan are Haiti specialists.

    Both initiated their work in Haiti three decades ago,

    first dedicated to scientific research,
    second to natural resource management.

    And both know that La Gonave was an easy expedition.

    That will change with the next
    research site, the Massif de la Hotte,

    which is the most important
    stronghold of Haiti’s biodiversity.

    The Massif de la Hotte is an isolated mountain range
    in the extreme southwest of the country.

    Two and a half million years ago the mountain range was
    still separated from the country by a wide sea channel.

    Due to this separation part of the plant
    and animal life evolved differently

    and the distribution of many species
    is limited to these mountains.

    The Pic Macaya is the highest mountain
    in the Massif de la Hotte

    rising to a peak level of 7,700 feet.
    It is part of the Macaya national park.

    The team heads to Les Cayes to
    continue from here to the Macaya national park.

    Les Cayes is the birthplace of the famous ornithologist
    and naturalist John James Audubon.

    The town and its surrounding rural area
    is a quiet, sleepy region.

    Life seems easier here.

    The infrastructure has been improved.

    But the relief to see propane gas tanks
    used for cooking disappears rapidly

    as charcoal dealers are spotted again

    waiting patiently for the trucks to
    transport the merchandise to the capital.

    Joel finds out for the team where
    the charcoal is coming from.

    Yes, these are all coming out
    from the southern watersheds of Macaya.

    The team crosses the Riviere de l’Acul,

    which still carries considerable
    amounts of water year round.

    Roads turn into trails and flat tires become
    an expected part of the journey.

    The wide trail is used by local peasants
    to carry their goods from cultivated land,

    called gardens in Haiti.

    Women are on their way to the market,
    the most important economic activity.

    In regards to product diversity
    any Haitian market may easily compete

    with a shopping mall, from fresh fruits and vegetables,

    bakery goods to hygiene products
    and lottery tickets, it’s all there.

    And of course, in a separate space, there is the
    omnipresent charcoal market.

    So, this is 20 US, about 20 US.

    So, this is an example of a middleman, that
    will buy it and then sell it in Les Cayes.

    He is going to sell this at a location
    where we crossed the river.

    Remember where we crossed the river yesterday?

    It’s about, I think, 10 kilometers
    as a crow flies from here.

    That is where he is going to resell it and that is where
    the trucks come and pick it up for

    transport to Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes.

    After ten hours the team arrives
    at the small village of Caye Michel,

    which offers a spectacular view
    of the Macaya national park.

    The forest is still a day’s walk away.

    This time the expedition has an additional objective
    other than looking for new species

    and trying to locate species
    that haven’t been seen for decades.

    I am collecting species of frogs that are
    critically endangered to bring back alive

    for captive breeding, which is a type of
    insurance policy in a sense that in the future,

    if the forests do come back

    then we can re-introduce these frogs into their habitat.

    To achieve that goal the Philadelphia Zoo
    teams up with Professor Dr. Blair Hedges

    and sends the zoo’s amphibian conservation
    specialist Dr. Carlos Martínez Rivera.

    Part of my job will be to take these amphibians
    that are endangered here in Haiti

    and bring them to the Philadelphia Zoo and create
    captive insurance colonies for those species

    to make sure they don’t go extinct.

    In the event they do become extinct here in the wild

    we have those frogs still at the zoo in Philadelphia
    and they can be brought back here.

    After a long and strenuous steep hike
    the team arrives at Pic Le Ciel

    at around 6,000 feet altitude.

    Guides carrying stuff for the seven of us,
    16, 17 people or so.

    Now, we set up camp and we are going to organize
    our collecting and photographing.

    Here mixed cloud and pine forests
    offer an excellent habitat

    for Haiti’s endangered highland frogs.

    The search for species begins after sunset.

    I am pretty sure, it’s right down in there.
    Let’s try and see what happens.

    I would say it’s right there.

    Oh, I can feel him. I pushed into the hole.
    I can feel him with my fingers.

    I am keeping him from hopping out.
    He is calling from a burrow.

    I move my hands around so you can see.

    See his head?


    Pretty frog and look at the orange.
    Wow! That is gorgeous!

    So, they have this snout, it is very pointed
    and it is cornified skin

    and it helps to burrow in the dirt.

    Very nice, look at the legs!

    So, we don’t know what this is yet. This is neat!

    There is another individual calling there.

    This is quite interesting, very interesting.
    I don’t know what it is.

    In the morning the team is able to appreciate
    the amazing cloud forests of this mountain range.

    Close to 1,000 different plant species
    are known from the Macaya national park.

    The abundance of animal species
    is equally astonishing.

    The Massiv de la Hotte is the site with the
    most number of frog species in the Caribbean

    restricted to one area.

    It is one of the most important
    centers of Caribbean biodiversity.

    The distribution of these frogs is extremely limited

    and even minor disturbances in the area may
    cause immediate extinction.

    The team is successful.

    In only two nights 23 frog species are found,
    six of which hadn’t been seen in 19 years.

    Some rediscovered frogs were previously
    only known from a few specimens.

    One of the smallest frogs, the
    Macaya breast-spot frog, is also rediscovered.

    The team collects individuals from nine
    critically endangered species

    for the captive breeding program at the Philadelphia Zoo.

    The cloud forests of the Macaya national park are not
    only habitat for a high diversity of endemic amphibians,

    but also they are known as one
    of the last remaining habitats

    of Haiti’s tame and beautiful national bird,
    the Hispaniolan trogon

    and other unique birds like the Hispaniolan parrot
    the Ashy-faced owl.

    But for how long will these national treasures
    have sufficient habitat to survive?

    A park guard who accompanies the team confirms the
    threat to Macaya national park and its surrounding areas.

    They don’t have general tools including boots and

    special equipment in order to get
    around the rough terrain.

    I’d like to point out that he told me earlier
    that they are ten and there is an estimate

    that there are over 200 units inside the park that are
    cutting wood, either for charcoal or for lumber.

    So they are understaffed, under resourced
    and they are outnumbered basically.

    Facing Haiti’s reality even here in the most
    remote mountains, the questions arise:

    How many species are still unknown on these
    mountaintops and need equal attention?

    And how long would it take to reach
    each one of these places

    considering the lack of access
    and extremely steep slopes?

    Only a helicopter can provide a faster access,

    which would take the team from peak to peak
    of the Massif de la Hotte.

    We hope we all make it, one way or the other.

    The team quickly establishes a base
    at the offshore island Île-à-Vache

    located south of the Massif de la Hotte

    and hires the experienced Dominican
    Air Force pilot Jesús Mendez

    to shuttle the team to the surrounding
    peaks of the Macaya.

    Gran Colin, Morne de Bernière, Morne Lezard,
    Gran Bois, Deux Mamelle, Tête Boeuf, Morne Manzinte,…

    Morne Pengal y Morne Bellevue.

    The bird’s eye view of the mountain range
    confirms that most of the remaining forests

    are only found on the extreme mountain peaks
    or on the very steep hillsides.

    Jesús drops the team as close as possible
    to promising forests.

    Since weather conditions change
    quickly in these mountains,

    last minute coordination is made
    at each drop before Jesús returns to base.

    We use helicopters. We have to really to get to reach
    these places where are we standing right now.

    This is about 1,500 meters elevation
    but it is very difficult hiking

    and this is where the last forests are,

    so it might take a week to do a trip just to this one
    mountain, whereas we can do this within 24 hours

    using a helicopter.

    And the Audubon Society collaborates
    with us on all these activities.

    A routine is rapidly established:

    prepare the campsite

    evaluate species found during the previous night,

    rest a few hours,

    start hiking to the forest before it gets dark,

    and finally search for sleeping lizards or
    active frogs during the night.

    The search continues.

    Amazingly we made it up before it got dark.

    Nobody has ever collected up here before, no
    biologist, as far as I know.

    So, there is the dewlap. It displays to other males
    and also to females.


    That is very painful.

    Don’t say anything to him, he’ll squeeze harder.

    Let go, please!

    Man, that hurts!

    Look at that!

    Usually they are brightly colored, it’s just, this one
    is kind of palish, it’s unusually bla.

    The team is lucky and locates a very special lizard.

    Got it?

    What a beauty!

    Oh, my God!

    Wow, look at the prehensil tale!

    That’s it!

    So this is a Twig giant anole of Hispaniola,
    called Anolis darlingtoni.

    It was described in the 30’ies, named
    after Darlington, a Harvard professor,

    wasn’t found again until the mid 80ies,

    and people looked since then,

    and here it is rediscovered,
    in a very different place.

    This is fantastic!

    A very rare lizard.

    To locate some species the team uses
    a voice recorder to record and

    reproduce calls provoking the frog to answer.

    Yeah, that’s him.

    Got him? Yes!

    So, that’s him, the guy who was singing.

    You can see the vocal sac has a different color,
    kind of a yellowish brown,

    very pretty belly with a straight line,
    kind of a dotted line there,

    stocky frog and you can tell by the shape of the
    frog, it must live on the ground

    and probably in a burrow like we just found.

    So this was under ground. It was very hard to find
    because it was literally under ground.

    We don’t know what it is, but it’s
    very closely related to ventrilineatus,

    which is in a mountain range near here.

    In the morning the team is ready to get picked up.

    The next mountaintop is Grand Bois.

    Jesús refuels the helicopter on site
    while the team starts to build the camp

    and local farmers cannot believe what they see.

    The cloud forest on Gran Bois is equally diverse,

    well preserved and should hide surprises for the team.

    At the forest edge a Grey-crowned palm tanager
    enjoys the abundance of fruits and insects.

    This tanager is found exclusively in the
    western part of the Tiburon peninsula

    and is Haiti’s sole endemic bird.

    Part of the team decides to look early for reptiles
    and insects in the thick mountainous forest

    while Joel prepares a collection of plants with
    members of the Haitian Audubon Society

    Anderson Jean and ecologist Jean-Marie Laurent.

    We made a collection of plants,

    both to cryobank and to store at the herbarium
    at the University of Florida

    and it is a selection of plants that represent all
    the life forms in the plant family in the forest.

    We don’t have the equipment to dry
    the plants for the herbarium specimens,

    so we are sprinkling 70% ethanol on the plants
    to stop the degredation process.

    We are starting a project to begin identifying
    the last natural areas of Haiti

    that are potential areas that would be
    selected for protected area

    and the government of Haiti has an agency,
    national agency for protected areas

    and they have asked us to begin selecting areas
    that would be on that map.

    Most likely Mourne Gran Bois will be on that map,

    not only because of its plant diversity,

    but also because of this little
    critically endangered Tiburon stream frog

    rediscovered on this expedition.

    The frog had not being observed for 28 years.

    The search continues during night hours.

    Miguel spots and catches what first seemed to be
    the widely distributed Hispaniolan giant treefrog.

    Very spiny.

    They have glands in the skin that release a substance
    that is somewhat toxic

    and if you rub it in your eyes,
    you can be temporarily blinded.

    Further studies in coming weeks determine
    that this frog is different

    and will most likely become a new species.

    The team carries on exploring
    the mountaintops of the Massif de la Hotte.

    Long hikes are often necessary to find adequate habitats.

    But even heavily disturbed areas
    are still suitable for unknown animals.


    I don’t know what this is. It’s a blueish-gray snake.

    The team splits to maximize the search.

    While Dr. Blair Hedges chooses
    to explore the giant tree fern forest,

    which is an ideal habitat for frogs and lizards,

    Miguel has encountered traces of one
    of the rarest mammals on earth,

    the Hispaniolan Solenodon.

    This used to be a cavity or foraging hole
    left by the Solenodon when they forage.

    It uses its snout and claws to dig
    in the soil or leaf litter.

    They usually leave this conical print

    As a reference, this is my hand.

    The nocturnal Hispaniolan solenodon is one of the two
    remaining endemic land mammals on Hispaniola.

    It resembles a scruffy, overgrown shrew,
    even though it is not related to shrews.

    The ancestors of this insectivore separated
    from all other living mammal groups an

    incredible 76 million years ago,

    and fossil evidence shows that they were
    once in existence in North America.

    The solenodon is a distinctive mammal
    capable of secreting toxic saliva

    making it one of only a handful
    of venomous mammals.

    For decades now it has faced real and
    immediate threats to its survival.

    Besides losing its habitat,

    it is poorly equipped to defend itself
    against introduced predators

    like wild dogs, cats and the Indian mongoose.

    We are also looking for sleeping
    anoles in the twigs up above.

    There are often some rare species that sleep high up.

    This is it!

    Remember what I told you about the
    red dewlap, orange dewlap anole?

    Guess what.

    So, this is a male of a new species that we found at
    Gran Bois and didn’t realize it two years ago

    and here it is, alive at another locality, not too
    far away, ten kilometers away,

    a brand new species to science.

    This is a big find, right now,
    just about three minutes ago.

    After many expeditions covering almost every
    remaining forest of this mountain range

    the knowledge of Haiti’s biodiversity
    has made a significant step forward.

    Discoveries and re-discoveries of reptiles
    and frogs were made on each mountain,

    sometimes to extremes rarely observed.

    We came up here to Morne Pangol this morning.

    We looked around the forest and the valley and found

    a number of frog species and lizard species,
    pretty much all of which were new to science.

    A great amount of time and effort is still needed to
    know more about the rare and unique reptiles and frogs

    of the Massiv de la Hotte and other places in Haiti,
    their distribution, habits and chance of survival.

    The results of the expeditions include the
    discovery of probably 40-50 new species,

    an astonishing number, especially for vertebrates.

    This confirms even more the importance of these
    mountains as one the most relevant hotspots

    for the Caribbean biodiversity.

    Amphibians play an important role
    in the ecosystem.

    They help to control the proliferation of insects,

    create organic matter for plants to grow and are an
    important food source for other animals.

    Frog populations have been declining
    worldwide at unprecedented rates

    and nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species
    are threatened with extinction.

    With almost 90% Haiti has the highest percentage of
    threatened frog species of any country in the world.

    The complete deforestation of a single mountaintop
    may wipe out several species at once.

    Immediate action to protect Haiti’s remaining
    natural forests has to become a priority.

    The team returns to the most valuable forests,

    this time in the company of Philippe Bayard
    of the Haitian Audubon Society,

    which is considered the most influential
    environmental organization in Haiti.

    Philippe wants to get a first hand view
    of the research sites

    and evaluate the situation of local communities
    surrounding the forests.

    The team follows a trail and soon encounters
    a group of people arriving from the market.

    Their three hour hike takes them across the forest.

    This is a primary forest, very well preserved

    but yet endangered because the people live of it.

    And they claim it’s theirs.

    There is no other alternative than agriculture,
    because it is high land

    and we could see on the other side what happens
    when they cut the trees.

    They burn the land to grow peas
    and sweet potato and malanga,

    which is fine. They need some way to live.

    They should do some agriculture or some activity so
    that allows them to meet their obligations,

    but you know, somehow we cannot allow
    this forest to disappear.

    The objective of this, what we are doing now first,
    is to know what is there and their distribution.

    You know, we have been carrying this
    investigation for the last 3 years,

    and it has been successful, the results
    of what exists in this area,

    Now we have to find solutions to preserve it.

    That is little bit more challenging.

    I believe the only way is to try
    a mechanism for land purchase.

    It happens in other places in the world.
    We may participate, facilitate,

    promote and sensitize people
    so we can find funding for that.

    But we have partners that could be interested
    to participate in such a venture.

    He comes from a place by the name of Morne Ouvrié,
    which is about three hours away from here.

    And he is coming up here to change his animals.

    He has two sheep and three goats.

    While efforts continue to find an effective method
    to preserve Haiti’s natural forest,

    Dr. Blair Hedges is back in his laboratory
    at Penn State University.

    New species are compared and described and

    DNA sequences of encountered animals analyzed.

    What I have on the screen are DNA sequences
    of about 1,000 frogs from Haiti

    and these are kind of barcodes, like
    you would have in the supermarket

    because what they do, it’s information
    about a species that tells us

    whether it’s a unique species
    or whether it’s the same species.

    Here you can see in the middle a group
    of individuals that clearly is different.

    This group is different from the one below it and
    different from the ones above and below those.

    This is really good information.
    It tells us how to distinguish two species,

    whether we have new species or not
    and it gives us a basic count of the biodiversity

    in a region and so, for that reason,
    it is very useful for conservation.

    In addition Dr. Hedges installed cryobanking tanks,

    where frog cells are frozen to avoid a
    potential total loss of species in the wild.

    This is a cryobank of about 1,000 samples of vertebrates,
    mainly amphibians and reptiles collected in Haiti.

    It’s a back-up plan for the conservation of species.

    The most important plan for conservation is
    really protection in national parks and forests,

    protected areas, what we call “in situ”, “in place”.

    What this is, is a plan C.

    Plan B would be breeding in zoos.
    This is plan C, cryobanking.

    This is where we freeze cells for hundreds of years,
    essentially indefinitely.

    in a kind of suspended animation, where cells
    are not changing, they are not degrading

    and the DNA, the genome of the organism, the
    information that codes for everything in the organism

    is extracted later, put inside a cell of a living
    organism and cloned back to life essentially,

    the whole species brought back to life, revived.

    This way we can store the entire
    biodiversity of a country

    in liquid nitrogen at minus 200 degrees centigrade
    essentially forever

    and it is very inexpensive to do this.

    In the meantime a delegation from the Haitian
    government visits the Philadelphia Zoo

    to coordinate further action and observe the breeding
    program for critically endangered frog species.

    Around 150 frogs of nine different species
    were brought to the zoo.

    Altogether it was around 150, 154.

    and they have been reproducing very well.

    We have over 1,400 now.

    And what I am doing now is putting some of the older
    kids together to make room for the newer babies.

    But I have to pull out the cages.

    And also what I do, I mist the cages
    two or three times a week

    and when I mist, that makes the frogs active
    and they come out

    and when they come out, if babies are in there, so what
    I do, then I put a tag on that cage to tell me

    that there are babies in there until I can take the
    babies out. So I know when I feed the adults,

    I have to feed the babies also.

    This is our signature project for amphibians
    at Philadelphia Zoo for sure.

    This is probably the biggest

    sort of rescue, conservation effort for amphibians
    we have done in quite some time.

    The HVAC system, the heating and ventilation, that
    keeps that area in the 60-65 degree range.

    Keeping that space at that temperature is critical to
    the habitat, because they are from high elevation.

    Having the drainage in the false bottom exhibits,
    having a mister system in there,

    that keeps the humidity going and that is how
    we recreate the natural environment

    misting, raining, humidity, barometric pressure,
    all those factors are what trigger their breeding.

    And so far, so good!

    For us Haiti has a couple of components.

    One, we had developed a partnership with
    Dr. Blair Hedges at Penn State University,

    actually somebody I went to graduate school with and
    by habit stance learned of his work in Haiti

    and looked to us as a potential partner in his project
    to be the recipient of frogs that he was going to collect

    and to try to create these breeding programs.

    At the same time Haiti is a place
    that you do have to worry about.

    Are these last bids of habitats going to disappear
    and are we going to lose species?

    And is there a need to have an ark-type situation?

    For at least a short-term answer, we hope
    it is short-term and not permanent

    and eventually we are able to move animals back
    into wild habitats.

    But you sure hate to lose the opportunity
    to have an insurance population,

    while you have the chance.

    What I have seen today, is the result of a
    two and a half years collaboration

    that started between Audubon Society Haiti
    and Penn State University

    with the support of the Philadelphia Zoo.

    And it is very conclusive to see the
    successful breeding of the frogs.

    So, we hope this is the start of a long-time collaboration,

    for the re-introduction, if ever needed,
    of these species back to Haiti.

    The future will tell if these steps will be necessary.

    For now Haiti’s remaining forests with their
    diverse plant and animal life can be saved.

    The team will continue the research
    trying to get complete knowledge

    about Haiti’s wildlife and finding ways to eliminate
    the pressure on these natural treasures.

    Whether this effort will be ultimately successful
    depends on the people of Haiti.

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