‘A Pet. A Family. A Fireman’: Scientist Helps Slovenia’s Tiny Frogs Hope For Success, & They Weren’t Expecting It

Juanita Bajuska has maintained her horned amphibians for 40 years in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She’s surrounded by them. Dozens of black baby dragons are kept in incubators, rain boots and binoculars the way most babies sit in pink high chairs. Small black snakes are grown in tubes, poo in the tank in case the parents need to remove them from his habitat for cleaning. It sounds like a zoo, but actually it’s a sanctuary where mother and babies are in the open and can breed. Sadly, finding a solution to the crisis of declining white-tailed frog population is a much harder task in Slovenia. Though nine babies have been born, there’s a bleak outlook for wildlife in the country. Predators prey on frogs, getting so bad they’re disappearing from local ponds. Due to food shortages there are only small numbers in many areas and consequently populations are declining, leaving many to wander around the streets unprotected, unable to protect themselves. It is becoming a serious concern in rural areas and towns where the frogs live. Before replacing the sun lotion bottle with a lizard bottle in a attempt to attract those same reptiles, one option for increasing the diversity of the amphibian population might be to hold baby frogs in the bathtub. John Klein of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University had devised a procedure where frogs were raised in a bath tub full of water, a possible solution for an increased frog population in Slovenia. While he was in Slovenia, Bajuska would dump a dozen frogs in the tub, and it would be up to Klein to find good premises to raise the little ones. It was an experience Bajuska remembered long after she had returned to Slovenia. Shortly after the success of the tub frogs, they began raising tadpoles inside the bathtub, changing the water once every three weeks, and keeping a baby animal in the bathtub at all times. After weeks of properly raising tadpoles in the bathtub, Bajuska was surprised when a frog she named Terfalcon appeared in the tub in her sixth year. A female, aged around 11 years. “It was a nice surprise. I have never held an animal of that age before.” she recalls. Bajuska and Klein matched the frog and soil types from the local farmers to assure that the frogs weren’t taking up a valuable agricultural resource. The frogs were to live in the bathtub, without ever going outside, and Bajuska kept watching as they grew during her years in captivity. “I have never seen them leave. I have never seen a frog that became like a member of the family.” she says. “I also saw them settle into the home.” It wasn’t until recently that Bajuska realized Terfalcon was even an adult. He was around 3 years old and wanted to play with her. “I saw in the cage with the baby and finally asked him if he wanted to swim. He said, ‘Why?’” Bajuska recalls. “‘I don’t like it.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’” The frogs in Slovenia are remarkably resilient, but it seems that one hundred years of forced survival on the endangered list has caused them many problems. Seeing Terfalcon as an adult felt a little bittersweet for Bajuska and Klein. Terfalcon was a healthy white-tailed finch, but there’s something bittersweet about it all; without it, there would have been no Terfalcon in the bathtub. “He was my baby. I miss him. But I have to say that there’s a chance that we might manage this procedure but with the success.” said Klein, suggesting the frog population in Slovenia may not be so bad after all. Bajuska agrees. “Of course, I feel sad. It breaks my heart.”

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