Approximately 460 tadpoles and 59 froglets have a new home at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area near Sonoita as part of an effort to boost the population of native Chiricahua Leopard Frogs.

At high noon on Monday, biologists and volunteers made their first stop at the Historic Empire Ranch headquarters, where they toted five-gallon buckets filled with tadpoles to an enclosed area beneath a canopy of Fremont cottonwood trees.

Michael Sredl, ranid frogs project coordinator for the non-game branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the tadpoles were being released into a more naturalistic environment then the big Plexiglas tubs where they were reared at the Phoenix Zoo.

"This is an actual place where native frogs can reproduce and produce egg masses," said Sredl, who explained that while frogs are sometimes bred in secure zoo environments, the project utilizes a variety of captive rearing and head-starting facilities, including the one at Empire Ranch.

Fenced and locked, secure outdoor enclosures known as "ranaria" also serve to protect an "insurance population" of frogs in case of a large die-off due to disease or some disaster such as a flash flood.

Other locations

In addition to their activities Monday at the Empire Ranch, Sredl and his partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Phoenix Zoo and the Frog Conservation Project also released frogs at two other locations on Las Cienegas.

Sredl said they chose Cinco Ponds as a good place to promote natural breeding of native frogs so they can disperse across the landscape. Maternity Well, a steel-rimmed drinker for cattle, was selected because it is a secure vegetated place for tadpoles to grow. It also allows game managers to relocate any adults further into the wild later on.

"It's not every day you do something like this - raising an endangered species all the way up from an egg mass and watch them morph into frogs and then get to go out in the field and release them into the wild," said Grant Mulligan, a volunteer with the Phoenix Zoo.

"It's a very exciting opportunity."