MALAYSIA - Traipsing through the jungle in search of a lost frog species might seem like a lost cause to most people, but to postgraduate student Ong Jia Jet, it is a worthy passion.
In June 2011, Ong, who is pursing a masters in herpetology, was a member of a small expedition, funded by Shell Chair and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak's (Unimas) Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, that rediscovered the rare Bornean Rainbow Toad (Ansonia latidisca), an amphibian not seen since 1924.
The rediscovery of the species at the higher elevations of Gunung Penrissen in Western Sarawak attracted worldwide interest and was a triumph for the expedition, which managed to snap the first-ever photograph of the toad.
Prior to the rediscovery, the only clues to the toad's appearance were illustrations by early European explorers. Also known as the Sambas Stream Toad, it was listed as one of the "World's Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs" in a 2010 campaign by Conservation International and International Union for Conservation of Nature Amphibian Specialist Group, with support from Global Wildlife Conservation.
"The Search For Lost Frogs" campaign encouraged scientists worldwide to search for 100 threatened amphibian species not seen for decades.
"During my three-month internship with Unimas' Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation in 2011, I joined the research team, led by my supervisor, Professor Indraneil Das, to search for this lost frog.
"Initial searches for the Bornean Rainbow Toad had been fruitless. Then, one lucky night while we were exploring the higher elevations of Gunung Penrissen above 1,000 feet, with one of Das' graduate students, Pui Yong Min, we rediscovered three of them on three mature trees near the forest trails."
Intrigued by the find, Ong wanted to know more about the little-known tree-dwelling toad.
"How could a toad that had been missing for so many years reappear?"
He applied to London-based Rufford Small Grant for Nature Conservation for a grant to study the toad further and was successful.
For the past year, Ong has been busy with fieldwork, investigating the ecology of toads in their natural habitat.
Having completed his study, he is working on a thesis and describes the results from his fieldwork as being very encouraging.