Eager volunteers help toads cross the road in Russia

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 3:26 AM

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) – In a nature reserve on the outskirts of Russia’s former imperial capital, volunteers are helping thousands of toads to cross a sun-dappled road so that they can reach their spawning grounds.

Thousands of toads hunker down during the bitter Russian winter months in the swampy pine forests outside St Petersburg, awakening in the springtime to migrate to their spawning grounds in the lowlands on the Gulf of Finland, a few kilometres away.

To complete their small but mighty migration, however, the toads must overcome grave danger: the traffic on a single-lane road.

The nature reserve put out a call for volunteers this spring to help the toads cross safely and were astonished by the interest it received.

“A huge number of volunteers responded in literally a few hours,” said Nino Natsvaladze, chief specialist for St Petersburg’s nature reserves. “600 people registered in 4 hours.”

Eager volunteers clad in neon vests patrolled the road on a recent day, stooping to pick up the slow moving toads, who are sluggish after the long winter, and ferry them across the traffic in bright green buckets.

“I like volunteering in principle, and also helping toads is basically three times cuter,” said local resident Artem Semenov, who saw the advert about the toads in need in local media.

“It’s much more interesting, more enjoyable and beneficial both for yourself in terms of spending time in the open air, for society and for nature, than sitting at home and watching TV.”

Another volunteer, Yulia Sergeeva, said helping the toads made her feel more connected to nature and her community.

“I’m very glad I had such an honour to help these wonderful animals,” she said, adding that she planned to volunteer every year from now on.

“Toads will multiply, there will be more little toads, and the environment will improve, in general everything will be positive and simply wonderful.”

(Reporting by Reuters in St Petersburg; Writing by Lucy Papachristou in London; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Miral Fahmy)