Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Rachel Thompson, left, her mother, Shauna, and brother, Jamin, see an exhibit Friday at Hogle Zoo during "Year of the Frog" activities.

Thousands of parents and children walked, ran, jumped and even hopped Friday to a Utah Hogle Zoo exhibit featuring frogs and amphibians.

The swarm was part of a nationwide "Leap Day" program kicking off what is being called "The Year of the Frog."

The amphibian focus is an educational effort about climate conservation. But to the hundreds of families who attended the zoo Friday, the event seemed more like a celebration.

At one outdoor booth, people compared their height to how far they could jump. Some frogs can jump a length six times their height, zoo education coordinator Chris Schmitz explained.

"You and me jumped the same!" one child shouted to his friend, who had just taken a running leap at the station. "Let's do it again."

Children also practiced catching paper bugs at the exhibit using tape stuck to the end of unrolling paper party horns and sticky gummy hands.

"They learn that a frog's food is always moving," Schmitz said, as the drawings blew in a light breeze.

Inside the small-animal building, educational tables were set up to provide information and interactive learning features.

Boys and girls eagerly pointed out to their parents such animals as small slithering salamanders to a tortoise twice the size of a tricycle.

About 3,300 people visited the zoo Friday, said zoo marketing director Brad Parkin.

Amphibians, and especially frogs, are an important indicator of climate health because they live both on land and in water and have permeable skin, which subjects them to a range of toxins and pollutants, said Hogle reptile keeper Shane Provstgaard.

Frogs have lungs but also breathe through their skin, Schmitz said.

Amphibians worldwide are facing extinction, said Provstgaard, who attended a conference in South America concerning frog health. About one-third of the Earth's 4,070 frog species is endangered and 130 species have been lost in the last 10 years.

Many of the frogs are being killed off by the chytridiomycosis fungus, which permeates the skin and makes it susceptible to further disease, Provstgaard said. Scientists are unsure how the fungus started but are seeing it globally.

Utah frogs also are at risk, Provstgaard said. Spotted leopard frogs once pervasive in mountain meadows are now rare and boreal toad populations are also in trouble. The populations are further threatened by invasive species of bullfrogs, which prey on smaller amphibians.

Utahns can help solve the problem by volunteering in research programs with the Division of Wildlife Resources and reducing waste and pollution, Provstgaard said. They should also take care to clean up after themselves while camping and hiking and should never transport amphibians nor take them home as pets, the zookeeper said.

That applies even to people who like to fish, who sometimes use salamanders as bait, he added. Moving animals from one lake area to another spreads disease, confounding conservation efforts.

Leap year activities will continue today, beginning at 11 a.m. Activities are free with zoo membership.

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