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Oakland Zoo to breed Sierras endangered yellow-legged frog
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OAKLAND  (AP) — A Northern California zoo has established a center to study and breed endangered amphibians and reptiles, including the rare mountain yellow-legged frog.

The Oakland Zoo's Biodiversity Center opened last week to house the frog that is nearly vanished due to Chytrid, a skin fungus that thickens their skin so they can't breathe and is decimating frog populations around the world.

Scientists will send about a dozen frogs to the zoo this month where they will live in tanks mimicking its mountainous terrain of granite rocks, clear water and plenty of bugs to munch on. The mountain yellow-legged frog, which once hopped throughout California's upper elevations have dropped more than 90 percent in the past decade.

"If we can make a difference here, we can have an impact on amphibians all over the world. It's awesome to be a part of this cutting-edge research; It's humbling," Victor Alm, the zoo's zoological manager told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Researchers at San Francisco State University have developed a treatment for the fungus, a bacterial bath that so far seems to help frogs fight off infection. The San Francisco and San Diego zoos are also involved with the project.

The hope is that the frogs will start breeding after a few months of hibernating. Ultimately, zoo officials say the frogs will stay at the 1,800 square-foot facility for about a year or two before scientists release them in the southern Sierra.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an environmental group in Switzerland, has asked zoos worldwide to take on one or two amphibian species to stave off their extinction.

The zoo spent about $500,000 on the center and also plans to breed endangered Puerto Rican crested toads and western pond turtles. While the building will be closed to the public, it has a classroom for schoolchildren to learn about endangered species and conservation. The public can also watch online.

"People say, 'all this money for a frog?'" Joel Parrott, the zoo's director, said. "But we're talking about the collapse of the entire amphibian population. There's a tremendous gravity to this work."