Wild amphibians and reptiles at the zoo

Major threats to frogs & Co. Amphibians, i.e. frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians, are among the most endangered animal groups. In Austria, 20 species are currently listed in the Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat loss is a key factor, as are climate change, pesticides and fungal infections. Fertilizers are also thought to contribute to the increasing incidence of deformities in frogs. Finally, simply crossing roads during the mating or brooding season poses great – often lethal – risks for these animals.

Native amphibians at the zoo

  1. common (grass) frog
  2. green (variegated) toad
  3. European common toad (spawn recorded)
  4. agile (spring) frog (spawn recorded)
  5. pool frog (spawn recorded)
  6. smooth newt (spawn recorded)
  7. warty (crested) newt

Reptiles are losing their habitats. As a group, the reptiles in Central Europe encompass turtles, snakes, lizards and anguids (slowworms). Fourteen species have been reported in Austria, 9 of them in Vienna. Once again, all of them are on the Red List and protected. The meadow viper is even considered to be extirpated here. Habitat loss is the greatest threat that reptiles face. Their nesting sites are increasingly being destroyed by road construction and altered waterways, with intensive agriculture providing the final blow. In and around human settlements, free-roaming cats compound the threat posed by car traffic.

Native reptiles at the zoo

  1. sand lizard
  2. grass snake
  3. Aesculapian snake

Watch your step – a newt! In designing our enclosures, we keep the requirements of these species in mind. Discover the shallow little pools in and between the enclosures. Many frogs, toads and newts use these to deposit their eggs. Small access and exit ramps help the animals utilize these waterbodies. We have entirely banned the use of pesticides on the zoo grounds. In the damp spring weather we also keep our mechanical sweepers in the garage in order not to disturb amphibian migrations to suitable spawning sites. Reptiles like it warm and tend to seek hiding places in gabions, in the rock garden next to the hippo enclosure, or in the little vineyard behind the Rainforest House.

Thomas Wampula, Technical Services and Project Development: “Maybe you spied a green (emerald) lizard scurrying away between the stones in front of the viewing pane at the hippo pond? Or another one sunning itself on the rubble in the vineyard behind the Rainforest House? Don’t worry, they are not escapees from one of our terrariums. We have picked up on the challenge to create habitats for green lizards – these habitats are so well structured that the lizards choose to stay around without the need for any confining barriers. The measure of our success? We already have the first zoo-bred progeny!”

Tips to protect amphibians and reptiles

  • Establish places for these cold-blooded animals to warm themselves in the sun.
    The body temperature of amphibians and reptiles depends on the ambient temperature.  Before they can become fully active, the have to “warm up”. This is why lizards and colubrine (common) snakes are attracted to bricks, dry-stone walls or loose rock piles, which tend to warm up quickly when the sun shines.
  • Help reduce the major threats.
    Cellar wells, descending stairways or pools tend to be inescapable traps for reptiles and amphibians. The animals often cannot extricate themselves without outside help and perish. Lids on shafts, bricks placed to help reduce step heights, as well as perforated plates or roughened boards as escape ladders on swimming pool edges can decide between life and death.
  • Design your garden to be natural and provide places where the animals can hide.
    Reptiles and amphibians like to seek shelter in loose rock piles and old dry-stone walls – preferably in sunlit sites. Thorny bushes such as blackberry, hedges as well as piles of leaves or branches provide protection against predators such as cats. Compost piles provide food and a place for slowworms and grass snakes to deposit their eggs.
  • Create waterbodies in your garden.
    Amphibians in particular spend most of their lives in the water. A garden pool set in a sunny or semi-shady site, surrounded by native water plants, creates ideal conditions. The animals tend to select shallow-water zones along the water’s edge. Deeper areas in the center of the pond provide optimal winter retreats. Fish feed on amphibians and tadpoles, so avoid stocking your pond with such potential predators.
  • Ban the use of herbicides on your property.
    Reptiles and amphibians react very sensitively to these poisons and often suffer agonizing deaths after herbicide applications. Moreover, herbicides tend to destroy the basic food resources of reptiles. Say no to spraying toxins: reptiles and amphibians will naturally regulate a healthy balance of worms, snails, insects and spiders in your garden ecosystem.