When the groundbreaking television program “Sesame Street” premiered on PBS in 1969, it featured a constellation of characters destined to become beloved by children worldwide. While Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and Cookie Monster have been helping kids learn to read and count for 40 years, perhaps no Muppet has proven as popular as Kermit the Frog, a felt-covered amphibian with ping-pong ball eyes.
Kermit may be the most famous frog on PBS, but he’s no longer the only one — thanks to “Frogs: The Thin Green Line.” Part of PBS’s acclaimed Nature series now in its 27th season, The Thin Green Line examines the vital ecological role frogs play and the perilous decline of species around the world.
Part of the program’s focus is Georgia and the rare gopher frog. In 1978, Time Magazine characterized Kermit as “thankful for each day during which the sky does not fall.” If gopher frogs talked (and hosted variety shows), they’d probably say they know exactly how Kermit feels.
A plump little amphibian once found widely across the southeast United States, gopher frogs are vanishing along with their threatened longleaf pine habitat. While the species survives in neighboring states, gopher frogs in Georgia are now found at just 10 sites — including the Conservancy’s Williams Bluffs Preserve.
Tucked into the southwest corner of the Peach State near the Chattahoochee River, Williams Bluffs Preserve offers some much-needed hope for Georgia’s gopher frogs. There, Conservancy scientists and partners from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Atlanta Botanical Garden are working to bring the species back to the area by releasing captive-reared tadpoles into a natural wetland on the preserve. Begun in 2007, the releases are part of an ongoing program designed to restore an iconic — and critically threatened — species to its native habitat.
The Georgia swamp may be a world away from “Sesame Street,” but saving the gopher frog could easily have been what Kermit’s creator Jim Henson had in mind when he said: “My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.”
(Image: Gopher frog. Credit: Christine Griffiths/TNC.)