Toad Conservation Project



The long-term goals of the Toad Conservation Project are to:

➢ Protect the Sonoran Desert Toad, Incilius alvarius, and it’s habitat, throughout its native range in Mexico and the United States
➢Better understand and document the environmental, natural and human impact on the species

➢Support sustainable practices and risk reduction techniques for medicine gathering, where legally allowed


The Sonoran Desert toad, Incilius alvarius (formerly Bufo alvarius) exists in a limited range throughout the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and the United States (Green et al, 2014).The glandular secretions of the toad contain Bufotenine and 5-Methoxy-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), which are currently of interest to science, the medical community as well as the shamanic medicine community globally (McBride, 2000; Davis and Weil, 1992 and 1994; Metzner, 2013). Human interest in the toad secretions has seen an anecdotal surge in interest with many competing groups hunting and harvesting the toad secretions in its native habitat.

One third to one half of global amphibian species are now threatened with extinction, with more than 120 already lost in recent years (Lannoo, 2005). Addressing the amphibian extinction crisis represents the greatest species conservation challenge in the history of humanity (Amphibian Ark, 2017). Incilius alvarius, the Sonoran Desert toad, is restricted to the Sonoran Desert region from extreme southwestern New Mexico throughout southern Arizona to southeastern California and into northwestern Mexico.

Although the toads are abundant at many desert localities in Arizona and Sonora, MX, they appear to have declined in both New Mexico and California. They are currently listed as endangered by the New Mexico Dept. of Fish and Game and are believed to have been extirpated from California completely (figure 1; Green et al, 2014).


This pilot study will be conducted under the guidance of environmental consultant, Kirra Swenerton. Kirra holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and a MS in Ecosystem Sciences from the University of Washington. Kirra has 20 years of professional experience in endangered species recovery and habitat restoration and has worked for notable institutions including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, The Nature Conservancy and the US National Park Service. She is currently the founder and lead scientist at Root Wisdom. Click here for Kirra’s full bio and curriculum vitae. The other field researchers helping her in Arizona are Kat Alvarius, Namast Dave and Jewelli Deva.

The TI research team will also seek support from relevant experts, academics and government agencies to ensure this research meets rigorous scientific standards.

In addition, the Sonoran Desert toad has a high phylogenetic diversity value, a limited distribution, and may be a species at risk due to recent over collection. Preservation of this species before it declines would be prudent because it would conserve a high level of diversity both within the United States and globally (Lannoo, 2005). While habitat loss poses a serious threat, the most immediate cause of worldwide amphibian decline is a parasitic fungus called amphibian chytrid, a disease that is deadly to hundreds of species and has quickly spread from Africa to the rest of the planet. In 1999, this fungus that infects the skin of amphibians was identified as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or “Bd” for short (Longcore et al., 1999). Bd appears to be capable of infecting most of the planet’s 6,000 amphibian species and many of those species develop the disease chytridiomycosis which is linked to devastating population declines and species extinctions (Berger et al., 1998; Skerratt et al., 2007; Fisher et al., 2009). Amphibian population declines due to chytridiomycosis can occur very rapidly— sometimes over a just a few weeks (Lips et al., 2006) and disproportionately eliminate species that are rare, specialized and endemic (e.g. those species that are most unique) (Smith et al., 2009).

 Figure 1: Incilius alvarius occurrences within the United States (Green et al, 2014)



Sonoran Desert toads infected with Bd have already been documented in Arizona (figure 2). A study conducted in 2008 found over 10% of toads sampled to be infected within the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (Sigafus, B.H. et al, 2014).



We acknowledge that any long-term conservation program for Incilius alvarius must address the multiple factors contributing to global amphibian decline as well as local issues affecting the toads across the entirety of their range including:

➢ Habitat loss
➢ Environmental contamination/pesticides
➢ Pathogens (specifically amphibian chytrid fungus, Bd)
➢ Climate change
➢ Overharvesting/poaching and other human impacts

This pilot study will begin to address these issues by meeting the following objectives:

➢ Gather baseline health, distribution and breeding data from Arizona study populations
➢ Develop proper handling techniques that minimize risks to toads
➢ Strengthen stakeholder partnerships to support conservation efforts
➢ Review existing research, analyze data and report findings
➢ Identify future priorities and inform long-term research design

Figure 2: Prevalence of the amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, at sample locations in, Arizona, USA (Sigafus, B.H. et al, 2014).


Because the resilience of the toad population is dependent on healthy, high quality breeding sites, we will identify sample areas in Arizona and map potential natural habitat sites (including seasonal and permanent pools, irrigation ditches and stock tanks) during August of the 2017 monsoon-breeding season. This will serve as sampling areas for future research. In addition, we will analyze breeding sites for presence of chytrid fungus (Bd) via non-invasive skin swabs (Boyle et al, 2004) and water samples. This will help to establish baseline levels of Bd infection in our sample sites. Furthermore, we will analyze breeding sites within the sample area for pesticide contamination which may include both water and or soil samples.

We will develop and practice proper handling protocols that minimize disease and stress risks and protect toads from Bd infection through human handling. These protocols may be integrated into “best practices” recommendations for groups or individuals who seek to sustainably gather toad secretions where it is legal to do so. These protocols may also be adapted for use in any future captive breeding efforts or establishment of sanctuary sites that receive toads that were previously held in captivity and may be infected with Bd. We will meet with stakeholder groups including private landowners, public agencies, academic institutions and tribes to further the partnerships and relationships necessary for long-term, landscape-level conservation of the toad and its habitat.



US$ 13,500 is sought for this phase of this study. Donations to the Terra Incognita Project are tax-deductible. 

Donations to the Terra Incognita Project are tax-deductible. The funds will directly go towards equipment, field supplies, travel, lodging and logistical support for researchers to undertake this pilot study in August, 2017 in Arizona and for analysis of skin swabs and water samples. The results will be peer-reviewed and published on our website and shared with interested members of the community and scientific journals.

BUDGET (in US dollars)

Personnel Services
Consulting Ecologist
(40 hrs @ $100/hr) 40 hours paid $4000 $4000
Field Researcher Assistants
(3 x 40 hrs @ $60/hr) 10 hours paid/30 in kind $1800 $5400
Supplies & Equipment
Materials and Supplies
(sterile gloves, coolers, pipettes, thermometer, pesticide test strips, microcenterfuge vials, scales, swabs, ethanol) $400
(camera, GPS device, headlamps, software licences) $5000
Laboratory Analysis
PCR swab analysis for Bd (100 @ $18/test) $1800
Atrazine strip test (100 @ $10/test) $1000
Travel & Lodging
Transport for 3 person field team (US$1500 flights, hire care US$1000) $2500
Lodging and food for 3 for 7 days $2000
Total $13,500 $14,400


TERRA INCOGNITA PROJECT  is a 501c3 Not-for-profit corporation founded in California, Sept 9, 2015. EIN number: 47-5001833. Your gift is tax-deductible.


Paypal:  or you can make a direct bank deposit.

Make checks payable to ‘Terra Incognita Project’ and mail them to:

Terra Incognita Project

250 Main Street, Unit 42

Ben Lomond, California, 95005





Amphibian Ark, 2017.

Berger, L., R. Speare, P Dazsak, D.E. Green, A.A. Cunningham, C.L. Goggin, R. Slocombe, M.A. Ragan, A.D. Hyatt, K.R. McDonald, H.B. Hines, K.R. Lips, G. Marantelli and H. Parkes . 1998. Chytridiomycosis causes amphibian mortality associated with population declines in the rain forests of Australia and Central America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 95: 9031-9036.

Boyle, D. G., Boyle, D. B., Olsen, V., Morgan, J. A. T., and Hyatt, A. D. (2004). Rapid quantitative detection of chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in amphibian samples using real-timeTaqman PCR assay. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 60:141-148.

Davis, Wade, and Andrew Weil. 1992. Identity of a New World Psychoactive Toad. Ancient Mesoamerica 3 (1):51-59. Abstract and excepts.

Davis, Wade, and Andrew Weil. 1994. Bufo alvarius: A Potent Hallucinogen of Animal Origin. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 41 (1-2): 1-8. Abstract and excepts.

Green, David M., Linda A. Weir, Gary S. Casper, Michael J. Lannoo. 2014. North American Amphibians: Distribution and Diversity. University of California Press.

Lannoo, Michael, editor. 2005. Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press.

Lips, K.R., F. Brem, R. Brenes, J.D. Reeve, R.A. Alford, J. Voyles, C. Carey, L. Livo, A.P. Pessier, and J.P. Collins. 2006. Emerging infectious disease and the loss of biodiversity in a Neotropical amphibian community. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:3165-3170.

Longcore, J.E., A.P. Pessier and D.K. Nichols. 1999. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis gen. et sp. nov., a chytrid pathogenic to amphibians. Mycologia 91:219-227.

McBride, Michael C., B.S.Phr., R.Ph. 2000. Bufotenine: Toward an Understanding of Possible Psychoactive Mechanisms. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. July-September, 2000; 32 (3): 321-331. Abstract and commentary.

Metzner, Ralph. 2013. The Toad and the Jaguar: A Field Report of Underground Research on a Visionary Medicine. Regent Press.

Sigafus, B.H., C.R. Shwalbe, B.R. Hossack and E. Muths. 2014. Prevalence of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, at sample locations in, Arizona, USA. Herpetological Review, 2014, 45 (1), 41-42.

Skerratt, L.F., L. Berger, R. Speare, S. Cashins, K.R. Mcdonald, A. Phillott, H.Hines, and N. Kenyon. 2007. Spread of chytridiomycosis has caused the rapid global decline and extinction of frogs. EcoHealth 4:125-134.
Fisher et al., 2009

Smith, K.G., K.R. Lips, and J.M. Chase. 2009 Selecting for extinction: nonrandom disease-associated extinction homogenizes amphibian biotas. Ecology Letters 12:1069-1078



The results of the 2017 study are available here.