Romeo is a Sehuencas water frog, and for years he was the only known member of his species alive — and the only one spotted in the wild in more than 10 years.
Researchers never gave up hope and rallied together to find Romeo a lover.
Their perseverance paid off during an expedition in a Bolivian cloud forest.
Teresa Camacho Badani, the chief of herpetology at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny, and her team searched all day for any signs of a Sehuencas water frog and were about to call it quits when they decided to look through one more stream. After 15 minutes of exploring, Badani saw a frog jump into the water, which you can watch in the video above.
"I got into the pond while the water splashed all over me and dove my hands into the bottom of the pond, where I managed to catch the frog," Badani told Global Wildlife Conservation. "When I pulled it out, I saw an orange belly and suddenly realized that what I had in my hands was the long-awaited Sehuencas Water Frog. My first reaction was to yell 'I found one!' and the team came running over to help me and pull the frog to safety.
That frog was a male, but Badani knew that if there was a male then there would be females nearby. They discovered another male and two females and brought all four back to the museum. They're currently under quarantine and living in an environment with similar water quality and temperature that they had in the wild. They will also be given a vaccine against the infectious disease, chytridiomycosis.
"We do not want Romeo to get sick on his first date! When the treatment is finished, we can finally give Romeo what we hope is a romantic encounter with his Juliet," said Badani.
The team plans on going out on more expeditions in hopes of finding several populations. However if they only find one or two small populations, they will bring those frogs back and include them in their conservation program.
But in order for the species to survive , Romeo (along with the other male frogs) has to successfully mate with a female. Badani is optimistic that Romeo and Juliet with hit it off. "She likes worms as much as Romeo likes them! She is very strong, and swims very fast. She looks great and is healthy. Opposites attract—while Romeo is very shy, Juliet is not at all! So we think she will make an excellent match for Romeo."
Before successfully finding Juliet, several organizations worked together to get the word out that Romeo desperately needed a lover.
Playing matchmaker and raising awareness
Back in February in an odd-yet-perfect collaboration, Global Wildlife Conservation, Match — the world’s largest relationship company — and the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative teamed up on a fundraising campaign to find a mate for Romeo. The goal was to get researchers in the field to find out if any other Sehuencas water frogs exist, and if any do, to find a potential mate.
Romeo has his own dating profile on Match, and the campaign aimed to raise $15,000 by Valentines Day, money that would be used to fund 10 field expeditions by the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative. From basic field equipment to transportation and guides, the funds will be essential in the search for individuals and to keep this species in existence.
"When biologists collected Romeo 10 years ago, we knew the Sehuencas water frog, like other amphibians in Bolivia, was in trouble, but we had no idea we wouldn’t be able to find a single other individual in all this time," said Arturo Muñoz, founder of the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative and GWC associate conservation scientist. "Romeo started to call for a mate about a year after he was brought into captivity, but those calls have slowed in the last few years. We don’t want him to lose hope, and we continue to remain hopeful that others are out there so we can establish a conservation breeding program to save this species."
You don't have to kiss this frog to help him
The species has faced a severe decline through combination of climate change, habitat loss, pollution, the deadly chytrid amphibian pathogen, and the introduction of trout. And now may come the final blow.
According to GWC, "The Bolivian government plans to build a dam in a forested area where the Sehuencas water frog was once so common it became its namesake: Sehuencas. In addition to looking for Sehuencas water frog adults and tadpoles, the expedition team will test the water of streams and rivers at key sites for traces of DNA from the frogs, confirming that they are there to be found even if team members don’t see them immediately."
Finding and conserving any Sehuencas water frog individuals is critical before the dam goes up. And who wouldn't want to help preserve a species with such a sweet face?
Since 2010, Romeo has lived in an aquarium in a shipping-container-turned-amphibian-ark in the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Cochabamba City, Bolivia. So if you'd like to help out Romeo and the entire species, visit Romeo's profile and make a donation toward the scientific expeditions.
The Sehuencas water frog isn't the only amphibian species in need of protection. As a highly sensitive indicator species, frogs around the world have faced severe declines for the same reasons: pollution, habitat loss, and the chytrid amphibian pathogen. The loss of frogs indicates the decline of an ecosystem.
If you'd like to learn more about the importance of frogs and help preserve all amphibians, explore information and conservation resources at Global Wildlife Conservation and Amphibian Survival Alliance.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in February 2018.