"Now we stand to lose one-third to one-half of those species within the blink of an eye."

Having 500 frogs from each species in "protective custody" would be the minimum needed to ensure proper genetic diversity for breeding.

Natural stocks
 
Speaking at an ongoing meeting of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Budapest, Hungary, Gordon McGregor Reid, Waza president-elect, said the programme could replenish natural stocks once the disease either faded away or could be cured.

"Very many amphibian species are no longer safe in nature" because of the chytrid fungus," he said, comparing the ailment to humans' athlete's foot, a fungus which lives on the surface of the skin.

Jorg Junhold, a Waza member, said Amphibian Ark hoped to raise $50m to $60m for the breeding programme.

Junhold, who is the director of the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, called attention to the fact that 2008 was a leap year and that February 29, 2008, would be declared Day of the Frog.

He said: "The outcome of the Amphibian Ark project will be that we will have saved hundreds if not thousands of species from extinction."
 
Pregnancy tests

Bonner, who also heads the Saint Louis Zoo in the US, said the chytrid fungus originated in South Africa and spread to other continents over recent decades as the African clawed frogs were used around the world by the thousands for human pregnancy tests.

"Chytrid is only lethal at certain altitude and temperature ranges," he said.

"Unfortunately, where it's most lethal is where we have the greatest diversity of amphibians.

"That is why we are going to lose between a third and a half of the amphibian species in the next few years."

Bonner also said that frogs were an important part of ecosystems, being both predators and prey.