Protecting Hout Bay’s Western Leopard Toad

A Western Leopard Toad protection group is seeking the assistance of the Hout Bay community to spread awareness about the species as well as gather data for research purposes.

While conservation efforts and protection of the toads are well known in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, comparatively little research has been done on their presence in Hout Bay.

According to Dr Tony Rebelo, of the Western Leopard Toad volunteer group, it is suspected there are two breeding sites in Hout Bay, along the lower and central Disa River, and “possibly several private ponds as well”.

“Our top priority is to find these breeding sites, which for two days will have the toads calling like motorbikes, only louder. Unfortunately, these days change from year to year and cannot be predicted in advance,” Dr Rebelo said.

The Western Leopard Toad lives in Cape Town and the Agulhas Plain, and every year for a few days – usually in August – it goes courting. This is unusual in that the courting period is confined to less than a week a year.

Thousands of toads migrate to suitable ponds, where the males give their characteristic “snore” and fight for the females. The females lay their eggs and depart, migrating back to their gardens. The exhausted males follow later when no more females arrive at the pools.

Unfortunately, the construction of roads and highways has wreaked havoc with their annual migration patterns, and thousands of toads are squashed each year.

“Currently we have no volunteers in Hout Bay who are able to assist in rescuing the toads from the road, which is why we are appealing to the local community to get involved,” said Ellen Fedele.

“Unfortunately Leopard Toad numbers are declining because of development, so every toad that can be saved is a win for us.”

Volunteers usually patrol at night when the toads are frequently found on the roads, although Ms Fedele quipped that these excursions could also have “interesting” results for patrollers.

“We obviously patrol with torches, so one night we were out and the neighbours saw our flashlights and got a huge ‘skrik’. The next thing ADT arrived, but thankfully we managed to sort it out,” she said.

One of the great misconceptions about toads is that they do not live in water, as opposed to their frog cousins. While enjoying moist areas, they were more prone to live in gardens or under leaves.

“I think what many people don’t realise is that if a toad settles in your garden, it is there for life.

“With so many walls going up in the suburbs, we encourage people to create small gaps in their perimeter wall or fencing so the toad can come and go as needed. The gap doesn’t have to be big at all, as you would be surprised how much the toad can squash itself down in order to fit through the gap.”

Residents are also advised to place a 30cm section of “gecko” netting alongside their swimming pool.

“The toads will fall into the swimming pool, and with them being unable to swim they will drown. What we have found is if we place this netting alongside the pool they will gravitate towards it,” Ms Fedele said.

In terms of patrols, volunteers should be armed with a bucket and a pair of rubber gloves, as the toads can be very “wriggly”.

“The most important thing to remember is that when you remove a toad from the road you should always move them in the direction in which they were heading when you found them.

“A big part of the patrols is data capturing, and to this end we have created a laminated paper grid on which the size of the toad can be measured and recorded. The important things to note are whether the toad is male or female, the time it was found, and the location it was found. Noting the exact location, say the address of a nearby home, is very important.”

Male toads are distinguished from females by the darker colour of the throat. The throats of females have a “creamier” appearance.

Dr Rebelo said each toad had a “fingerprint” of markings on its back and the data allowed the group to calculate population sizes, longevity and establish breeding sites, thus allowing them to work out migration distances.

Once volunteers have collected data, they are able to submit the information to the Western Leopard Toad Monitoring Programme communities page, https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/southern-africa/view/project/458883/western-leopard-toad-monitoring

“If you find squashed toads, you need to record these as well. In many of the areas we patrol, more signs have been put up warning that Western Leopard Toads are crossing the road, and hopefully down the line we can have these established in Hout Bay as well,” Ms Fedele said.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas said he had already met with Ms Fedele and had agreed to champion the Western Leopard Toad awareness programme in Hout Bay.

“I have already reached out to some community members who have an interest and I will arrange for a night-time torch patrol, and we will also be advising people on what pesticides to use or not to use in their gardens. I’m excited about this project,” he said.

For more information, Ms Fedele can be contacted on 078 203 7510 or
ellen76seven@gmail.com, or Dr Rebelo at T.Rebelo@sanbi.org.za