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VOLUNTEERS LEND A HAND TO HELP AMPHIBIANS PROCREATE

Why did the toads cross the road?

AS SOON AS the sun's first rays warm up the earth, a gaggle of toads sets off on a journey to lay eggs in a nearby pond. However, many of them die under the wheels of cars and trucks while crossing the roads to get from the woods in which they live to the ponds in which they mate.
To help the toads make their journey and achieve their goals, several toad rescue missions have been organised by environmentalists around the country. On March 22, a group of people gathered for the 18th time to rescue toads from certain death at the Bratislava leisure and recreation resort Železná Studienka.


PLASTIC barricades prevent the toads from getting killed on the road.
Roman Lehotský

AS SOON AS the sun's first rays warm up the earth, a gaggle of toads sets off on a journey to lay eggs in a nearby pond. However, many of them die under the wheels of cars and trucks while crossing the roads to get from the woods in which they live to the ponds in which they mate.

To help the toads make their journey and achieve their goals, several toad rescue missions have been organised by environmentalists around the country. On March 22, a group of people gathered for the 18th time to rescue toads from certain death at the Bratislava leisure and recreation resort Železná Studienka.

Dozens of volunteers descended on the area to build barricades made of plastic mesh to stop toads getting onto the road. Later in the spring, when the warm weather encourages the toads to march across the road, the volunteers will return, collect the toads that have gathered in the foliage, and carry them over the road to the ponds.


FEMALES often carry male toads.
photo: Roman Lehotský

"Thanks to these efforts, we rescue around 10,000 toads every year," says Blanka Lehotská from the Basic Organisation of the Slovak Association of Environmentalists and Conservationists (ZO SZOPK) Miniopterus.

Lehotská started rescuing toads when she was in elementary school. Her brother, one of the original toad rescuers, brought her along to the first volunteer effort in 1986. Having participated in rescues every year since, she later took over the organisation. Currently she is on maternity leave. Her eldest child, two-year-old Lenka, often accompanies her.

"In the first years of these rescue missions, the ratio of dead and saved toads was almost one to one. In the last few years, only about 3 per cent of all the monitored toads die," she says.

Some 1,040 metres of mesh plastic surrounds the forest around three ponds in the resort area. The toad migration can take anywhere from 10 to 30 days, depending on the weather.


SOME grow to love the little animals.
photo: Roman Lehotský

"There is a huge quantity of new toads [every year]. Some of them get eaten by predators, others die during crossing," Lehotská says.

The most effective measure to prevent toads from dying under the wheels of cars would be the complete closure of the road during the time of migration, activists say. But because a sanatorium, a forestry office, a seismic station, and restaurants are all nearby, it is impossible to ban car access.

Another option is to build special underpasses to provide the toads with a safe route under the road. However, there is not enough money for this. That is why the only way to save the toads from certain death is to transfer them by hand.

During the week Lehotská brings students to help rescue the toads, and on the weekends volunteers come.


THE END of the journey, safe at last.
photo: Roman Lehotský

"I like to come [to Železná Studienka] with my family on the weekends. But because I see how little is done for nature here, I started to participate in this activity," said Peter, 33.

Lehotská says that some students are afraid to pick up the toads with their bare hands so they wear gloves to start with. Later, though, when they see others working without gloves, they take them off. And in the end, they often take such a fancy to the toads that they want to take one home.

"I have to check them on the bus, to see if they have hidden one in their buckets," Lehotská laughs.

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