A Kenyan Biologist Spots an Endemic Ethiopian Frog! - Observation of the Week, 6/7/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Badditu Forest Tree Frog, seen in Ethiopia by @jkn!

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, many of James Kuria Ndung’u’s formative experiences in nature occurred when he visited his grandparents in the Central Province countryside. “Both of my grandparents were educated and they taught me a lot regarding ethnobotany, birds, animals and other facets of natural history through narratives, folk songs, poetry etc,” he tells me. “In real sense, I was being nurtured to become an interpretive naturalist, in my own rights!”

In high school, James was active in the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, and the various activities, lectures, and programs “opened yet another dimension” in his life. “I got to learn the floral and faunal scientific species common names, which became much more easier as I had...already known most of them in my mother-tongue language, through my rural folks.”

His lifelong interest in nature led to him become a professional biologist who is also interested in outdoor education, and James ended up spending about three years as a full time naturalist for Bale Mountain Lodge, nestled in Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) in southern Ethiopia. There he lead interpretive walks and coordinated with researchers doing field work in the area. 

It was on one of these walks that James spotted the frog you see photographed above, a Badditu Forest Tree Frog. He and the guest came across it while on the Sanetti Plateau, the largest afro-alpine habitat in Africa, and James says “[the frog] brought my guest of the day and myself a great joy despite the freezing temperatures...It was my first time to see and record the species, during both my study and working stint in the Bale’s.”

This frog species, which is endemic to Ethiopia, typically lives at higher elevations - 1,900 to 3,900 m (6,200 to 12,800 ft) - and likes grasslands, although it will live in some forests and forest edges. Females reach 40–63 mm (1.6–2.5 in) in length, while males are a bit smaller, reaching 20–45 mm (0.79–1.77 in). They are generally fossorial (burrowing) but come out to breed after heavy rains.

Although interested in all facets of nature, James (above) has focused on avian biology for much of his career and is a trained, qualified and certified “A”-grade bird ringer/bander through the South African Bird Ringing Scheme (SAFRING). However, he is currently not engaged in any research, “as opportunities here in Kenya have dwindled with the harsh economic times and a lot of bureaucracy, as well as the prohibitive research fees, delayed permit issuances, institutional affiliations and tedious paperwork.”

This has allowed James some time post his photos to iNat, like the Badditu Forest Tree Frog. “I use [iNaturalist] as a learning tool and as a sharing platform to showcase my field observations with my fellow nature lovers, enthusiasts, researchers, scientists and the greater public at large,” He tells me.

Everyone is entitled to education. Luckily being in the digital era, sharing and learning through such a great platform has indeed increased our scientific knowledge gaps through the practical participatory and  involvement of all persons including the citizen science. I am delighted to be a proud member of the iNaturalist family!

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out James’s publications here.

- Almost exactly two years ago, another Observation of the Week blog came at us from the Bale Mountains - @veronika_johansson’s Ethiopian wolf

Posted by tiwane tiwane, June 07, 2020 20:59



Cool! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by allycouch about 2 months ago (Flag)

Awesome - I grew up in Ethiopia and went to high school in Kenya. I never got to the Bale Mountains Nat'l Park even though I lived quite close for a few years at Shashemane. It was hard to get too back in those days. Thanks for your work James.

Posted by daverogers about 2 months ago (Flag)

Amazing find, thanks for your work and for sharing your knowledge!

Posted by melaniegaddy about 2 months ago (Flag)

So rad!

Posted by leptonia about 2 months ago (Flag)

Fabulous! Great find James!

Posted by janeyd about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by ianjamieson about 2 months ago (Flag)

It deserves a kiss from @tiwane. Thank you for sharing!!

Posted by sunnetchan about 2 months ago (Flag)

What a great looking frog. So many amphibians are being lost worldwide. Thank you for letting us see this one.

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 months ago (Flag)

LOVE seeing these organisms from Kenya! Keep up the observations, @jkn ! :)

Posted by sambiology about 2 months ago (Flag)

What a wonderful frog! - Thank you for sharing your sighting, James.

Posted by irene_r about 2 months ago (Flag)

Great looking frog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm - All the very best James !

Posted by leuba-ridgway about 2 months ago (Flag)

Well don sir

Posted by afsarnayakkan about 2 months ago (Flag)

Great find! :)

Posted by trh_blue about 2 months ago (Flag)

What a beautiful frog!

Posted by driftlessroots about 2 months ago (Flag)

Love amphibians!

Posted by claudia_ma about 2 months ago (Flag)

Great find James! Well done.

Posted by zarek about 2 months ago (Flag)

This show how important is to upload old sightings, well done James!

Posted by njvelasc about 2 months ago (Flag)

As Pliny said: "Out of Africa always something new". The green colouration is so unexpected. Used to seeing that colour in Rana frogs and tree frogs. Great find.

Posted by charles_stirton about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by rbunn about 2 months ago (Flag)

Great looking frog! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by sonnekke about 2 months ago (Flag)

Well done! Sincere thanks for sharing!

Posted by lschreif about 2 months ago (Flag)

Wonderful find! So happy you can share with the world through iNaturalists. Best wishes to you James!

Posted by sawwhet about 2 months ago (Flag)

great observation!!
Thanks for your work & sharing your knowledge.

Posted by sajibbiswas about 2 months ago (Flag)

Amazing looking Tree Frog!!! Thank you for the Post!!

Posted by katharinab about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by cookswell about 2 months ago (Flag)

jkn must have fantastic eyesight. It's really well camouflaged against the foliage.

Posted by star3 about 2 months ago (Flag)

Oh my goodness the frog is gorgeous!! I love amphibians and love to see these wonderful pictures on iNat form other places around the world. Thank you for all of your work and for sharing your story. Your grandparents sound like amazing people and I think learning the way you did from poetry and folk tales is a beautiful thing.

Posted by bethd about 2 months ago (Flag)

Add a Comment

Sign In or Sign Up to add comments

Is this inappropriate, spam, or offensive? Add a Flag