How Riley the endangered Western Leopard Toad hitched a 13,010km ride from George to the US – in a sneaker

Business Insider SA

Western Leopard Toad
Nancy Connell and a Western Leopard Toad (not Riley), which now has a new home in Baltimore.

  • The US city of Baltimore is now home to an endangered Western Leopard Toad, typically found in around Cape Town, named Riley.
  • It appears Riley hitched a ride in a sneaker and braved a lack of oxygen, extreme cold, and the risk of being squished to make it to his new home.
  • Riley is probably from George, but may have been motivated to emigrate because so many Western Leopard toads end up pancaked on Cape Town roads.

She carefully checked her boots, microbiologist Nancy Connell told the Baltimore Sun, but she forgot to check her sneakers. And that is probably how an endangered Western Leopard Toad, now named Riley after her dead cat, got all the way from the Western Cape to a new home in the United States, 13,010km away.

Connell – a scholar of virulent bacteria and an expert on protecting against disease vectors that can cross borders – discovered Riley in the bottom of her locker at her Baltimore gym late last week, after a workout. Last she saw him, the Baltimore animal services unit was looking for zoos to offer him a permanent home.

"I signed it over and promised it hadn’t been bitten or bitten anyone," she told her local newspaper.

Read the full article in the Baltimore Sun: How an endangered South African toad survived a journey via sneaker to Baltimore

Connell left South Africa on Wednesday, after visiting a friend who runs a nursery in George. There, she said, toads kept jumping into her boots. But she didn't check a pair of sneakers before putting them into a bag, and checking that bag in.

That means Riley spent two days packed in luggage without food or water, part of that in the unpressurised and cold luggage hold of a plane on a long-haul flight – all without apparent ill effect. After a little warming up Riley seemed quite comfortable, Connell said.

"I’m in awe of this toad and this species," she told the Baltimore Sun.

She named Riley for her cat, which died on the same day she left South Africa.

The Western Leopard Toad hangs out in the coastal lowlands of the south-western Cape, where it is common in gardens even though it is considered endangered. It is a protected specie, and collecting or translocating it is illegal.

Every year thousands of the toads are pancaked on Cape Town roads as they migrate to suitable breeding ponds, to such an extent that volunteers try to shepherd groups across busy roads for a couple of nights each season.

It is not known whether Riley was aware of this annual massacre before he emigrated.

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