By Brody Sinutko, Special to the Van Nuys News Press

LONG BEACH, CA — From May 24th through April 25th, 2025, the Aquarium of the Pacific will
feature its newest exhibit, “Frogs: Facing a Changing World.” This exhibit showcases more than
20 different amphibian species from around the world and is divided into two sections: the
redesigned Tropical Pacific Gallery, dedicated to vibrantly colored tropical frogs in rain-forest
terrariums, and the Pacific Visions Gallery, which hosts amphibians native to California and

The new exhibit aims not only to display a unique gallery of amphibians but also to highlight the
Aquarium of the Pacific’s conservation efforts, such as restoring populations of the nearly extinct
mountain yellow-legged frog, a Southern Californian native species. Additionally, the Aquarium
is part of the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network, a group that cares for
confiscated exotic animals, such as the axolotl, a species native to Mexico that is sometimes
illegally trafficked into California from surrounding states.

In partnership with other zoos, government agencies, and the United States Geological Survey
(USGS), the aquarium is displaying its restoration exhibit of the mountain yellow-legged frog.
The nearly extinct frog is native to Southern California’s San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San
Jacinto mountains. Brett Long, the senior director of birds, amphibians, and mammals at the
Aquarium of the Pacific, notes that several factors, including more urban development, the
chytrid fungus, and the introduction of invasive trout species, have reduced the frog’s habitat by
90%. The aquarium has already released around 300 breeding pairs back into the wild since
starting a collaboration program with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in 2021.
Guests at the aquarium can now see a live display of the efforts to restore the mountain yellow-
legged frog in the latest exhibit. This unique exhibit differs from others, featuring a more lab-like
environment with clear plastic boxes as habitats and a few assorted stones scattered around. “The
exhibit features both the tadpole stage and when they grow into frogs before release,” Long said.
Long describes the program’s process: “We take tadpoles bred at either the Los Angeles Zoo or
the San Diego Wildlife Alliance. They come here as tadpoles, metamorphose into frogs, and then
we release them back into the wild,” Long said.

Along with restoration, the Aquarium of the Pacific also displays its efforts in defending California’s native ecosystem from invasive species. It is one of the 19 non-governmental organizations, along with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), that form the  Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network, a collaborative group within the AZA. The Aquarium of the Pacific contributes by housing 11 confiscated axolotls, which are illegal to own in California.

The axolotl exhibit features two juvenile axolotls, one bright orange and the other deep black,
resembling Halloween colors. Unlike the fewer than 100 wild, brownish-colored axolotls
endemic to the Mexico City area, most axolotls are bred in captivity and kept as pets, accounting
for their vibrant colors. Most states allow them as pets; however, according to Long, the axolotl
could threaten California’s native ecosystem. “They’re very closely related to California tiger
salamanders, and those are endangered. The concern would be that if an axolotl were
accidentally or purposely let loose in the environment in California, they could out-compete the
native salamander species,” Long said.

Cpt. Patrick Foy, Public Information Officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,
noted that there had only been two recent instances of axolotl breeders. One was caught in the
Sacramento area in 2022. The other one was in Chico, in either 2018 or 2019. Foy noted,
“Axolotls are one of the most commonly illegally possessed and sold restricted species in
California. But when we get those cases as individuals, they are typically handled more
administratively than we generally do criminally,” Foy said. The Captain explained that most
people obtain axolotls through Craigslist or Facebook network groups. However, Foy stressed
that owners aren’t commonly prosecuted due to the lack of ill intent and willingness to comply
with administrative orders. “When you do find them, generally in ones and twos, just the
person’s personal pet.”

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