Two frogs at the center of a battle against mining in Ecuador

After lifting heavy logs and digging in the rocks, biologist Andrea Terán can finally say eureka! She holds in her hands one of two species of frogs fighting a unique legal battle against mining in Ecuador.

Drenched by icy water tumbling from a crystal-clear waterfall, Terán studies the fragile lives of the resilient rocket frog (still unscientifically named) and the longnose sunfish (Atelopus longirostris), thought to be extinct since 30 years .

The discovery a few years ago of the two amphibians, which measure up to four centimeters, made the joy of scientists and ecologists.

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And it became an argument to try to stop a mining project of 4,829 hectares inside a cloud forest with prehistoric-looking trees in Junín, in the province of Imbabura, at three hours and half drive north of Quito.

Atelopus longirostris first appeared in 2016. “It was a frog that came back from the dead,” said an emotional Terán, who was accompanied by AFP on an expedition to study these amphibians in a wooded area that is reached after nearly two hours of walking. .

But “if the water is contaminated (by mining), the last population of this frog is lost”, explained the biologist from the Jambatu Center, dedicated to the research and conservation of amphibians.

The harlequin snout is extinct according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. But the scientists found it in a forest entrusted to the Llurimagua copper project, in charge of the state company Enami and the Chilean Codelco, whose exploitation is planned for 2024 with a production of 210,000 tonnes of copper per year. .

The dealership set off the alarms. And the discovery of a new rocket frog in 2019 has only increased actions to save this habitat.

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Terán took legal action in 2020 in court to stop the exploitation. Although a judge agreed with him at trial, he lost on appeal.

In Ecuador – which entered large-scale mining in 2019 – there are at least 12 advanced-stage projects with reserves of around 43.7 million ounces of gold, 46,156 million pounds of copper and 183 million ounces of silver, according to consultancy Grupo Spurrier.


When scientists at the Jambatu Center discovered the new species of rocket frog, they thought it was the confused nurse frog (Ectopoglossus confusus).

However, an anatomical difference in its tongue and genetic studies determined in 2019 that it was a completely unknown species in the genus Ectopoglossus.

In an optimistic nod, they named this nimble little brown frog “Resistance.”

“The conditions it lives in are unique, with the sound of the waterfall, we don’t know what its communication mechanisms are, we don’t know what its reproductive biology is like,” says Terán.

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In a second battle against the mining concession, a group of residents of Junín and neighboring towns launched a new protective action. Terán witnessed this process.

The argument? Errors in environmental impact and management studies in the first phase of advanced exploration, including the omission of a protection plan for the two species of frogs, explains lawyer Mario Moncayo, whose firm of lawyers supports the case.

“There are so many mistakes. The rights of nature were violated, in addition, the documents were never properly disseminated to the community and an environmental consultation was not carried out” with the inhabitants, explained Moncayo to AFP.


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