Finding Ameerega Basselri

Manuel and I had salivated for the past few months over photos of this frog. Now as we traversed the bumpy carettera crossing the Cordillera Escallera on route to Pongo de Cainarachi and destinations beyond in the fall of 2005, while listening to Evan (Twomey) recount the misadventures he and Jason (Brown) endured whilst searching for the frog, Manuel and I decided conclusively that this was a frog we needed to look for. This was the first time our paths had crossed with Evan in Peru, turning out to be the first of many expeditions we would enjoy together.

Later that year (2005), with Manuel back in Iquitos, working towards the end of his universtiry degree, I was again back in San Martin where I had been for the few months prior travelleling around solo exploring as much of north eastern San Martin as I could. Deciding to take up the challenge and try my luck locating the area Evan had described finding these frogs months before, Ceasar (driver) and I headed out into the dusty dry hills west of Tarapoto. Each kilometer closer to the destination, and it seemed more and more hopeless, with nearly complete deforestation everywhere. I simply could not fathom a large Dendrobatid living here. The road was heavily potholed and the sporadic oncoming traffic showered us in clouds of red dust. With dusk threatening Ceasar and I contemplated Evan directions, which had us thoroughly confused at this point – somehow we must have missed that fork in the road. Frustration grew as we realized that any real effort in search of the frog would have to wait until morning.

A blown tire brought us to an abrupt stop. Getting out of the car, stretch, shaking of the dust, and coughing even more dust from my lungs was all I planned on doing while Ceasar got down to the business of changing the tire. As he worked, Ceasar suggested I might climb up that small dry stream bed up the road a few meters fuerther. Parting the dust covered roadside vegetation, I lowered myself down from the road onto the dry stream bed. A small puddle at the base of an enormous boulder, was all the standing water left. A few trees on either side of the stream valley were all that separated it from the coffee plantations which flanked it. The puddle revealed no tadpoles and as I pulled my self up and over the boulders working slowly along I heard no calls either. As was expected, no frogs were here.

A shrill whistle from the road below indicated that the tire was fixed. Emerging through the roadside vegetation once more, I in disbelief saw a flash of colour. From its perch upon a dusty leaf about a meter high and almost overhanging the road, one of the most amazing frogs I had ever seen fled into the undergrowth. And I dove in after it.

We hope that everyone who purchases this frog appreciates the majesty of this incredible animal, I am hard pressed to recall any sight in “frogging” that can compare to seeing this animal alive within its biotope, its otherworldly beauty a stark contrast to the degradation that is closing in around it.

We have since found a couple other sites in the immediate vicinity of our first encounter with it, and some of these populations remain viable, and hopefully will continue to be so.