Save the Frogs Campaign gathers pace in Goa Special

Posted Jun 13, 2009 by Armstrong Vaz
The night season has set in. The rain drops are striking at a ferocious pace and tiny rain drops find their way on to my bed through the tile roof house of mine.
File photo
But the sound of darav, darav, darav ranting the air in my neighborhood is one of the many things which I have looking forward to every rainy season.
“Followed by the sweltering heat, comes the monsoons, and to herald the monsoons come the frogs. For the frog, it's finally the season to wake up to after months of hibernation, to sing, eat and breed. But instead, their croaks invite trouble. Goan's have traditionally hunted frogs for a delicacy known as 'frog legs'. While the hunting and killing of frogs might have been sustainable before, today, it's merciless. Frogs are no longer caught just for the hunter’s family. They are now delicacies for rogue restaurants.”
“Restaurants pay hunters to catch hundreds of frogs at a time, decimating the populations of frogs all over Goa. For the frog it's a horrible way to die. Yanked out of the field after being blinded by a torch, the frog is then stuffed into a gunny bag that's packed-full of unfortunate frogs. At the restaurant, the frog is held by its waist and its legs are chopped off, and skinned. The frog, still alive is thrown into the bin, allowing it to die slowly out of blood loss. It's hard to imagine that humans are capable of such cruel acts to animals,” wrote Save the Frogs campaigner Clinton Vaz in his message to the Wildgoa yahoo mailing groups.
Yes, the frog is an endangered species in Goa and for the last three years Vaz along with a few environmentally-conscious citizens have been running a campaign to save the frogs.
“In the past few years, the campaign to save frogs has been picking up steadily, and least year, besides the media focusing on the issue, the forest department actually arrested 10 people that were caught hunting.”
The frog population is on the decline, says Vaz.
“Yes the frog population is on the decline. Frog populations can be assumed to be declining in Goa, just as it they are in the rest of the world. Globally, frog species are disappearing at an increasingly rapid rate, faster than they have ever done in the past 65 million years.”
“In Goa, studies in 1999 and 2002 have been conducted by amphibian specialists in coordination with International agencies like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Moreover basic surveys and compilation of checklists on different frog species have also been carried out by researchers at the Goa University’s Department of Zoology, the Goa Forest Department in conjunction with local individual herpetologists.”
“Save the Frogs Campaign in Goa is gathering momentum is enjoying support from all quarters and while nature lovers ecologists and concerned citizens are joining hands with the Goa Forest Department to create awareness and conserve Indian Bull frogs in particular and all other frog species in general.
It is however important to look at the national scenario too so that we realize the seriousness of the issues at hand concerning Amphibian diversity and about the declining amphibian populations that are now in dire straits,” says Nirmal Kulkarni.
“According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, at least 1,856 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, representing 32 percent of all known species worldwide.Scientists fear that more than 50 amphibian species worldwide have already become extinct over the last 15 years alone, which includes over 18 species from South Asia alone. This high rate of decline of amphibian species across the world provides an indicator for the health of natural ecosystems in all regions and is a cause of concern.”
“Currently there are approx 427 species that are considered Critically Endangered (CR), 761 are Endangered (EN), and 668 species are Vulnerable (VU) worldwide. In India an Assessment of Amphibians under the Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) workshop conducted by Biodiversity Conservation Prioritization Project, India has listed 32 species as Critically Endangered, 71 species as Endangered, 52 species as Vulnerable and 9 species as Near Threatened species. Over 63 species were listed as Data deficient as no research data was available on them,” says Kulkarni.
While 63 percent of Indian amphibians are endemic to India, i.e. found only in the country 37 percent are considered non-endemics and are found across the world besides the country. The Western Ghats is considered as one of the richest areas of endemism as far as amphibian diversity is concerned followed by North East India and Sri Lanka. Goa’s forests are part of the Western Ghats landscape and the need of the hour is to conserve and protect these forests for amphibian conservation.
“Threats for amphibian species in India include habitat destruction, fragmentation, and agricultural practices like shifting cultivation, pollution, pesticides and human consumption for meat. The laws that protect amphibian populations include the Wildlife Protection Act, the Biodiversity Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act besides others. The Jerdon’s Bullfrog, poached for its meat in Goa is listed as Near Threatened while the Indian Bull frog, another victim of large-scale hunting is listed as Vulnerable. The Malabar Gliding Frog, an endemic species of South Asia found in Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park is listed as a Near Threatened species. Amongst other species found in Goa the Beddome’s Leaping frog is listed as Vulnerable while the Jerdon’s Narrow mouthed frog is listed as Near Threatened on a global scale,” he adds.
“In Goa, the two largest species; the Indian Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus) and the Jerdon’s Bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus crassus), are selectively poached for their large fleshy legs, the most prized anatomy of the frog. The Indian Pond Frog, Grass Frog and the Common Indian Toad are also occasionally poached.”
“An insatiable demand at restaurants for illegal frog meat has ensured a lucrative return to the poacher for a pair of frog legs. Noticing the dramatic decrease in numbers of these two species; the Indian Bullfrog and the Jerdon’s Bullfrog, are now listed on the Schedule-I List of threatened species recognized by the Government of India, as well the IUCN Red List recognized internationally,” adds Vaz.
There is however, a serious need for long term monitoring of the existing Goan frog populations to keep a check on the declining numbers.
A number of reasons have attributed to the dwindling numbers. There are a number of threats to the existence of frog species, however in Goa the chief threats as listed by Vaz are:
“Poaching and consumption of frogs without allowing them to breed. At the onset of the monsoons frogs end their aestivation and come out to breed. Selective poaching of the mature bigger adult frogs before the frog can breed, will defiantly lead to a catastrophic decline, drastically reducing the number for a future frog population.”
“The toxic effects of use chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture. Flooded paddy fields are ideal habitat for frogs. Frogs absorb water through their skin, and thus are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of residual chemicals that concentrate in ponds and low lying fields.”
“Habitat destruction. Rampant filling of fields and clearing of forest cover, besides encroachment on forests by human activities such as mining, construction, etc have possibly caused entire resident populations to dramatically decline within a short period.”
“Human interference in ecological balance. A significant global trend that is threatening frog populations as a whole worldwide include climate change, global warming, introduction of invasive species and the transfer of disease from farmed to wild frog populations.”
The Government of India in 1985 declared a blanket ban, on the catching and the killing of frogs under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. This implies that any individual or restaurant detected to be catching, killing, selling, serving or even eating frog meat violates the provisions of the Act. This would attract stringent punishment with a fine of Rs 25,000 and/or imprisonment upto 3 years.
Eating frog meat can jeopardize human health a lot more than you realize says Vaz “The toxic chemicals absorbed by frogs from the environment. Due to the massive toxic pesticide residues that accumulate in the fat deposits of frog meat, consumption of frogs can trigger paralytic strokes, cancer, kidney failures and other deformities. Frog meat is contraband and usually processed in unsanitary conditions, with no regulation what so ever."
Frogs are the pulse of Goa’s environment, a very unsung yet crucial component of the ecosystem bridging a vital link as predator and prey in the food chain. Their impending extinction will have a ripple effect on the ecosystem, which we have not yet fully foreseen, by throwing a delicate ecological balance out of gear.
Frogs and tadpoles are voracious eaters, and consume millions of mosquitoes and mosquito larvae every year. One of the suspected reasons for the recent increase in recorded cases of malaria and other vector borne diseases in Goa, can be attributed to the decline in the numbers of frogs.
The increasing incidents of snakes being found in urban & semi-urban areas is also now being linked to the decline of frogs. The decrease in numbers of frogs, can force snakes to rely on rats, whose habitats include human habitation.
In Goan mythology frogs are believed to bring prosperity and good rainfall.
And campaigners like Vaz, have called upon every Goan to help Goa and Save the Frogs campaign by. “Firstly, discourage others, if not yourself from consuming frog meat. If there is no demand for frog legs, frog-poachers simply won’t catch them. Secondly, if you come across people poaching frogs or restaurants serving frog meat, report it to the police (100/108) or any of these Forest Department official’s, preferably at the location closest to you.”