Hydroelectric Developments Threaten the Bullock’s False Toad in Chile

The Nahuelbuta mountain range in Chile

The Nahuelbuta Mountain Range is located within the northern limit of the Valdivian forest ecoregion near the coast of south-central Chile. It is considered a biodiversity hotspot and its fauna and flora is characterized by a high degree of endemism: a lot of species are only found there.

Unfortunately, the forests of Nahuelbuta have been destroyed by the development of agriculture and the forest industry, and today the majority of its surface is covered by pine and eucalyptus plantations.

Deforestation in South Chile


The only two wild protected areas (Nahuelbuta National Park and Contulmo Natural Monument) have a small area and they are located at high altitudes in the mountains, so the parks will not be able to protect all of the biodiversity in the Valdivian forest.

Nahuelbuta contains 17 amphibian species, including both species of Darwin’s frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii and R. rufum) and five endemic species: the Nahuelbuta spiny- chest frog (Alsodes barrioi), Ramadilla spiny-chest frog (A. vanzolinii), Contulmo ground frog (Eupsophus contulmoensis), Nahuelbuta ground frog (E. nahuelbutensis) and Bullock’s false toad (Telmatobufo bullocki); all of these seriously threatened by extinction. The most critical case is represented by T. bullocki, a species classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and it has rarely been seen since it was officially described in 1952. In addition, Bullock’s false toad is considered one of the most evolutionary distinct amphibians in the world, with an EDGE rank of 5.

Clockwise from top: Chile's Darwin frog, Nahuelbuta spiny-chest frog, Nahuelbuta ground frog, and Contulmo ground frog


Currently, the two wild protected areas in Nahuelbuta do not appear to have any known populations of this frog, but recently a group of Bullock’s false toads of all life stages has been found at the Butamalal river in the Province of Arauco, Bíobio.

A Bullock's false toad found in the Butamalal river

Despite this promising news, a Chilean energy company (Hidroeléctrica Butamalal, a subsidiary of RP Global Holding) is planning to develop a mini-hydroelectric power plant in exactly the same area where these frogs exist. Although currently little is known about the biology of the Bullock’s false toad, field observations suggest that adults depend on native forest and tadpoles are adapted to live in fast-flowing waters, so if a dam is built upriver this will be a huge threat to the frogs.

Everything indicates that the company will get the required permits to start its operations, unless the Chilean environmental authorities help to develop adequate plans to protect the local fauna and flora. An environmental declaration made by the hydroelectric company did not include a report on the presence of frogs or an analysis of the possible effects of the project on frogs nearby, despite the area being well known as an amphibian hotspot. This project represents a major threat to the biodiversity of the Butamalal river, and I hope that I can use this information to lobby the government to intervene and stop the project for the sake of the Bullock’s false toad.

Find out more about Claudio and his work with frogs in Chile…


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  1. toto said,

    on May 31st, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    The area where the frog has been rediscovered Bullock, is possibly the last population of the species! Unfortunately is severely threatened by a hydroelectric project on the River Butamalal. this hydroelectric project should not be built!!!!

  2. Daniela said,

    on May 31st, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    It’s a real shame (in both senses of the word) these things are still happening in a country that call itself “the latin american jaguar”. Could it be a bigger contradiction on this nick name than the use of an animal’s name as a real positive and powerful adjective, when in reality this country is completely unable to protect its endemic and native species? People must understand the real meaning of sustainable development until is too late. You can’t continue growing forever if the raw material (strongly bounded to every expression of life) doesn’t exist anymore. So go ahead Claudio, hope you got the support from many people and you can’t stop this to continue. Resist frogs from Nahuelbuta Mountain Range!!
    Good luck!!

  3. René M. said,

    on June 8th, 2012 at 12:32 am

    No podemos esperar que suceda lo peor – en este caso – la extinción una especie – para preguntarnos cómo sucedió y cómo se llegó hasta ese punto sin hacer nada para revertir este proceso. En el área del Río Butamalal aun se está a muy buen tiempo de recuperar y estudiar con mayor interés y fuerza, la reducida población del Sapo de Bullock y aprender que – quizás su presencia junto a la de otras especies de fauna como de flora nativa, son indicadores de un escaso pero sano ecosistema que aun persiste en una región donde históricamente la explotación del bosque nativo ha resultado en la pérdida del hábitat y el reemplazo por especies foráneas de rápido crecimiento por parte de capitales extranjeros ó por el cambio de uso de suelo de pequeños y medianos propietarios para ganadería ó agricultura, entre otras actividades.

    Es importante el desarrollo del país, pero de manera sustentable y con respeto a nuestras especies nativas, para que se mantengan en el tiempo: aquí hay una buena ventana para apreciar si las autoridades de gobierno y los privados interesados en construir la central hidroeléctrica Butamalal demuestran con hechos concretos que se pueden hacer las cosas bien de principio a fin, tanto en el marco teórico que indican las leyes y reglamentos como en la práctica, en el diseño y término de la obra, la que en este caso, debiera replantearse tanto su construcción, traslado o definitivamente no ha lugar, basado en la normativa ambiental vigente con argumentos y estudios científicos de expertos en temas muy en particular, como el de los anfibios y en especial del Sapo de Bullock, que por lo demás habían antecedentes que se encontraba extinta y podría ser este lugar, el último refugio de la especie.

    ¿Hay que esperar como sucede casi siempre en Chile, que primero sucedan las tragedias para luego comenzar los planes de acción para hacer una u otra medida paliatoria en circunstancias que se pueden hacer mejores planes ahora que aun la especie es parte del ecosistema y del planeta Tierra y no del recuerdo de unos pocos?

    Adelante Claudio con tremenda obra y buena suerte con esta iniciativa.

  4. Claudio Soto said,

    on August 9th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    I would like to start thanking all support given during the last couple of months to our campaign to stop this inminent threat to the one of the last populations of the EDGE amphibian #5 Telmatobufo bullocki. What finally happen is not frequent and I have very good news. Thanks to this conservation campaign and other important efforts in Chile, Chilean authorities heard and took into consideration our observations on the risks that the development of this hydrolectric power plant represented for the survival of the Bullock’s false toad. As a consequence, the Chilean Environmental Assessment Service, rejected the environmental impact declaration presented by the company, and asked for a more complex, detailed and longer-term environmental impact study. The company finally desisted to continue the process, and it seems the project is not going to continue. Among the people working on this campaign, we see this as a victory! However, is not time to relax as we have now a higher challenge: to protect the species (the area) in the longer term. The area in question is a private-owned land, and at the moment lacks of any level of protection. The conservation of the Bullock’s false toad is just starting, and I hope we can develop adequate measures to assure the survival of this unique species.

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