Rena Gaborov was looking for gliders during a night-time survey in the East Gippsland forest near Bonang when she first heard the call. It stopped her in her tracks.
Having devoted years to searching for a frog long-believed extinct, she convinced herself she was mistaken.
“I went all shaky when I heard the call. But then I thought ‘no, this can’t be right’,” the ecologist said. “I can’t just stumble upon this frog.”
The large brown tree frog, with its distinctive orange markings on its hind legs, hasn’t been seen or heard of for two decades. As far as many conservation scientists are concerned, the Victorian amphibian had gone the way of the dodo.
Ms Gaborov noted her GPS location before continuing her spotlight survey for yellow-bellied gliders and greater gliders, as part of her work with Wildlife Unlimited.
She went back to the site the same night but heard nothing. She did however glimpse a frog sitting on a fern frond in the torchlight moments before it hopped into the darkness.
“I’m always looking for local frogs and I know the large brown tree frog is supposed to be out here,” she said. “Are they around here or are they extinct – that’s always been the question in my head,” she said.
Drawn back a week later, Ms Gaborov heard the frog call through the rain some time after 1.30am on April 12. As she was setting up a sound recorder to capture the call, the elusive frog went silent. Pulling out her spotlight, she again saw its brown body crouching on a fern frond. This time, she photographed it.
The photograph took the large brown tree frog from being presumed extinct to a member of what conservation scientists call “Lazarus species” – those rare creatures which prove the experts wrong by reappearing long after they were thought to have disappeared.
Ms Gaborov also spotted a second large brown tree frog, this time 10 kilometres south-west of Bonang, in a puddle by a roadside on April 21.
Ecologist Rohan Bilney‚Äã said the first male frog in the photograph appeared to be a good size and in good health.
“I’d hope that this photograph spurs a bit of action from authorities in terms of conservation management,” he said.
Stephen Henry, terrestrial biodiversity program manager at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Gippsland, praised Ms Gaborov’s skill and dedication in identifying the rare frogs.
Dr Henry said as a result of her work, the department had put interim protection measures in place. The department would also increase surveying to establish the size and extent of the species’ population. He said special protection zones would also be implemented.
The large brown tree frog was one of four threatened species named in a 2013 Supreme Court case lodged by environmentalists against the state government. The Environment Defenders Office claimed the government had failed to draw up plans to adequately protect the threatened species.
Senior scientist at the state government’s biodiversity research arm, the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Nick Clemann said the find was “highly significant”.
“I’m hopeful that the follow-up surveys will find more of the frogs,” he said.