El Dorado: The Search for the golden toad

In the twilight of the 20th century, the last Golden Toad on the planet disappeared into the high elfin forest of the Costa Rican mountains, never to be seen again. In “El Dorado: The Search for the Golden Toad,” a team of biologists, explorers, and filmmakers returns to the community of Monteverde—the only place in the world in which the Golden Toad was found—to work with local students to gather the stories of the scientists, conservationists, and longtime residents who hold the clues to the species’ sudden disappearance. Armed with these important pieces of the puzzle—and led by the Golden Toad’s last witness—the team will set off into Monteverde’s high elfin forest and long-shuttered trails on a search for signs that the Golden Toad may still, against all odds, survive.

Take a look at our expedition team’s monteverde photo gallery

If you would like to lend your support to this expedition, please follow the link to our Golden Toad Donations page to discover a range of exciting incentives we are offering in exchange for your generosity! Thank you for your support of Adventure term!

Check out this short teaser with music by Kolea Coody, and follow the link to our BLOG for updates on this expedition as it unfolds...


the setting

High in the mountains of Costa Rica, Monteverde is a model of conservation in our modern world. Home to rich primary forests hidden among the clouds, thousands of plant and animal species, and friendly local residents, the community is a hotspot for biodiversity, culture, and environmental awareness. But like all members of the planet Earth, the residents of Monteverde - be they human, plant, or animal - must adapt to their changing ecosystem, or face annihilation. In the wake of a changing climate, the globally unique cloud forests are becoming drier, the roads are growing dusty, and the community will soon be at a crossroads that the rest of the world will face in years to come. Monteverde's story - and the story of the Golden Toad - has a lot to teach us as we wade into shallows of the anthropocene. 


The Species

First described by Jay Savage in 1964, the Golden Toad is a viscerally captivating and biologically unique species, and it offers important lessons about conservation and extinction in the modern world. Endemic to a four square mile stretch of habitat in the high elfin forests of Monteverde, this species numbered in the thousands only a few years before its demise; in 1987, biologist Marty Crump recalls seeing "over a hundred" individuals during their breeding season - by 1989, there was one. Now officially considered extinct, the Golden Toad has been called "the first terrestrial extinction to be linked to climate change” and “the poster child of the amphibian extinction crisis,” and its tragic demise has informed our modern understanding of the need for global conservation of imperiled species. 


The Search

There is more to this story than meets the eye. In Monteverde, the Golden Toad's visage still haunts the guide books, the ball caps, and the postcards at the Cloud Forest Reserve that it once called home. The local guides still talk about it as they pass the closed trails that once led to the mythic breeding pools, still tell stories of its ghostly exit. And there are rumors of scattered sightings, unconfirmed, and years beyond the toad's extinction. Is it possible that the species known as "El Dorado" could still, against all odds, survive somewhere in the untouched forests of Monteverde's protected mountains?  In the summer of 2019, Adventure Term team members Trevor Ritland and Priscilla Palavicini will undertake a journey into the cloud forests of Costa Rica in a bid to uncover the secrets of the Golden Toad...

You can follow along with this expedition as it unfolds on our official El Dorado Blog