Close-up photo of the Mindo Harlequin Toad on a leaf Close-up photo of the Mindo Harlequin Toad on a leaf

Arlequín Reserve: Saving the Mindo Harlequin Toad

This rapid-response project seeks to protect the habitat of the only known relict population of Atelopus mindoensis, a species deemed “possibly extinct” after disappearing in 1989. With your help, Khamai can create a reserve for the toad and begin a permanent monitoring project to help keep this species from extinction. Every dollar saves a toad.

$64,371 raised of $296,000 goal.


20 backers. 80 days to go.

What is the story of the toad?

If the Mindo Harlequin-Toad had a year- book photo, its caption might have read “most unlikely to be rediscovered.” The tiny, Christmas-colored species was declared “possibly extinct” after not being seen in its habitat since 1989.

However, everything changed in 2019 when relict population was discovered in a remote undisclosed locality in the cloud forests of Mindo.

The rediscovery came as a surprise, since no one was looking for the lost toad.

“The team was not looking for Atelopus or even expecting them,” explains Alejandro Arteaga, one of the authors of the paper announcing the species’ rediscovery (Barrio-Amorós et al. 2019). “The cloud forests where it lives are the most thoroughly documented in the country, and no one had seen harlequins in 30 years.”

What is the goal of the project?

The goal of this project is the creation of Arlequín Reserve, a cloud forest protected area to preserve the habitat of the only known relict population of the Mindo Harlequin-Toad (Atelopus mindoensis) in order to save the species from extinction.

Specific objectives

Purchase a cloud forest land lot to create new reserve protecting the entirety of the only known relict population of Atelopus mindoensis.

Establish a permanent project to monitor the status of the harlequin toad population.

Create a documentary to share the story and gather additional support.

Why is this project urgent?

In 2019, after the rediscovery of the Mindo Harlequin-Toad was announced, a group of founder individuals (4 males and 1 females) of this species were brough back to the Centro Jambatu de Conservación de Anfibios in Quito.

Ex-situ breeding of Atelopus is an action of last resort, a desperate attempt to create a back-up population and headstarting program in case the species becomes extinc in the wild.

Centro Jambatu has had phenomenal success breeding 10 of the 25 species of Atelopus in Ecuador, thus helping ensure their survival. Unfortunately, all attempts to breed A. mindoensis ex-situ failed and the entire group of founder individuals died, with no additional toads being found since.

Where ex-situ breeding of Atelopus has failed, in situ habitat preservation, monitoring, and breeding has succeeded. This has been the case for other harlequin toads in Ecuador, and perhaps is the best (only?) strategy to preserve A. mindoensis.

Figure 1: Aerial view of the Arlequín Reserve cloud forest, habitat of Atelopus mindoensis, including the first 5 hectare land lot targeted through the current fundraiser. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga

Figure 2: This cloud forest stream is the habitat of the only known surviving population of the Mindo Harlequin-Toad. The locality was kept secret in order to maintain the integrity of the population. Photo by Eric Osterman