SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct. 23, 2007 designated rocky stream banks and privately owned land in southeastern Puerto Rico as critical habitat for a threatened species of the coqui frog, a national symbol of the Caribbean island.
The guajon, one of 17 species of frogs in the genus Eleutherodactylus—known locally as coquis for the “co-kee” sound made by two types—will be protected in 260 acres of land adjacent to farms, roads and homes spanning a southeastern section of the tropical island.
All of the protected parcels are part of the historical range of the frog and support suitable habitat for the species' conservation, according to a statement from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
The 3.3-inch-long frog has white-rimmed eyes and large, truncated disks on its feet. It has been protected as a threatened species since 1997, but deforestation and industrial development have destroyed much of the amphibian’s habitat.
Conservationists and frog experts, while partly welcoming the ruling, said not enough ideal habitat was protected to help the guajon, or rock coqui, effectively recover its numbers.
``To leave suitable occupied and unoccupied habitat out of the critical habitat equation for a species effectively (prohibits) that species from recovering,'' said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the San Francisco office of the Center for Biological Diversity. ``And that is what has happened here.''
Tuesday's decision was in response to a 2003 lawsuit filed against the federal agency and the U.S. Department of the Interior by the U.S. conservation group and local environmentalists to protect the frog.
Rafael Joglar, a University of Puerto Rico herpetologist, said most of the habitat protected did not feature the mossy caves and grottoes that the shy amphibian prefers.
``It’s always nice to have habitat preserved, but I think the protected area is a little short,'' Joglar said.