Jodi Rowley is a National Geographic grantee discovering and documenting the diversity, ecology and conservation status of highly threatened amphibians in the forested mountains of Vietnam.
Today we are leaving the village and heading back to Hanoi. Up at 6am, we begin packing. Once all of our gear is more or less confined within duffel bags, hiking packs, rice sacks or buckets, we haul it into an old truck caked with mud that is waiting for us at the edge of the village. We squash together, all our gear and four people in the back seat, and bump up the muddy road to a nearby noodle soup (Phở) shop. The shop walls are made of the same striped red, white, and blue plastic tarp that we’d used as a floor in our forest camp, and we hunch over steaming bowls of soup while sitting on tiny stools. We finish up with green tea so strong that it’s bitter and then pile back into the truck and continue lurching up the road to the reserve headquarters.
At the headquarters once again, we tell the reserve staff about our survey and begin to prepare a short report for their records. I go through my muddy and slightly soggy notebook and tally up the number of amphibian species that we had found in the reserve. It’s a bit of a rough guess at this stage, as we have work to do until we accurately identify all the amphibians, but we estimate that it’s approximately 27 species! A relatively high number of amphibians for one patch of forest, and some of these amphibians are pretty amazing!
Take the Vietnamese Moss Frog, a mottled green and reddish brown frog covered in bumps that lays its eggs in water-filled tree holes, and becomes nearly invisible in it’s usual mossy habitat (photo below). Or Taylor’s Tree Frog, a species in which males call with a quiet, metallic whirrrr from the vegetation around muddy pools and females are equipped with a mysterious conical point on the tip of their nose. Or Sung’s Asian Leaf-litter Toad, a big-headed frog with enormous silvery-green cat-like eyes, that calls hauntingly through the forest all night.
But now it’s time to say goodbye to the misty mountains and moss frogs of Cham Chu Proposed Nature Reserve and face the bumpy road back. The sweat-licking insects were a bit more abundant for my liking, I didn’t enjoy being sick at the start of the expedition, and my wrist is still purple, but it’s totally worth it. For now, I’m lucky enough to have seen about 27 species of amazing amphibians during this expedition, met some lovely locals, and enjoyed spending time working with my fantastic colleagues. The information that we’ve gathered will contribute towards our understanding of amphibians, and hopefully their conservation. I’m happily looking forward to hot showers and sleeping in a bed, but I’m already itching to get back into the forest! Memories of leeches, bruises and bites (see slideshow above) fade and all I remember are the frogs!
I will return to the forests of northern Vietnam shortly, but my colleagues and I now have have work to do in the laboratory. It’s time to accurately identify all the amphibians that we found, which means detailed examination of all the information we collected, including the calls and DNA. Knowledge gained during this expedition will help us figure out how amphibians are doing in Vietnam, and pinpoint which species are likely to be threatened with extinction and are in most urgent need of conservation. Habitat loss remains the biggest threat to amphibians in this part of the world, and it’s especially important to identify species that only occur in small areas and are likely to be wiped out completely if a tract of forest is lost (such as Helen’s Flying Frog, a species we discovered in 2009 in southern Vietnam).