Features Tuesday, June 09, 2015 - 05:30
  In most parts of India, monsoon is considered a welcome relief from the sweltering heat. The driving rains soothe the blistering surface of the earth, with the occasional croaking of frogs in the wild making for a picturesque description. But in a rather different setting, the monsoons also act as a harbinger of doom for the amphibians, their very croaks pushing them towards their imminent end. In some parts of the world, frogs are slaughtered to please gluttonous taste-buds of human beings. According to reports, poaching of frogs in Uttara Kannada has already begun to meet the high demand of the amphibian’s meat in Goa. Sathyabhama Das Biju, an amphibian researcher and a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Delhi University, does not find reports of frogs being poached surprising. "Even though export and import of frog meat is banned in the country, the domestic market for frog meat is a viable one. Take for example how they are served in toddy shops," Biju says. The Western Ghats, which runs through the district, is recognised as one of the eight "hottest hotspots" of biological diversity in the world and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around 350 species of frogs have been discovered in India in the last ten years, of which a staggering 200 of them had been found in the Western Ghats. However, 70 percent of India’s amphibian species are endemic to the region and almost 75 percent of the species fall in various threatened categories which make them one of the most threatened vertebrate group in the country as well as globally. "People behave as if tigers are the only threatened species." Their role as prey and predator Frogs are considered "good friends" of farmers. They thrive on pests that can damage agricultural crops. The species also helps in controlling vectors such as mosquitoes which in turn helps in checking mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and encephalitis. If frogs were wiped out from an entire ecosystem, it could pose a threat to the existence of other species too, like birds and snakes, that prey on frogs for food. Hoplobatrachus tigerinus Frog legs, a delicacy Also known as "jumping chicken", frog meat, especially the legs, are considered a seasonal delicacy in several parts of the country and the world. Indian bull frog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus) which is devoured for its fleshy legs and Pond frog (Euphlyctis hexadactylus) are two species that are commonly used for consumption in India. It was around the late 1980s when India was one of the major exporters of frog legs in the world, producing 4,000 tonnes of the delicacy annually. Amidst growing concerns over inhumane killing of frogs and decline in crop yields due to increased pest attacks, the government banned trade in frogs in 1987. Indonesia subsequently emerged as the leading exporter of frog meat with France is one of the largest consumers today. Decline in population Apart from poaching, the decline in the species's population can be attributed to factors such as habitat loss and pollution, but frogs are particularly vulnerable to environmental and climate changes. However, what seems to concern researchers and environmentalists the most is the season in which frogs are poached, which is usually during the monsoons. "It is during this time that frogs breed and catching females which carry around 50 to 100 eggs at a time has a cascading effect on the population of the species," says Seshadri KS, a PhD student in biological sciences in the University of Singapore. Corey Bradshaw, an associate professor at the Environment Institute of the University of Adelaide, in 2009 said that not only are we destroying the habitat of frogs, we are also "eating them to death". "The thing is, it isn't a gradual process. There's a threshold, you cross it, and the whole thing crashes because you've just completely changed the composition of the whole community. There's a tipping point. It's exactly what happened with the overexploitation of cod in the North Atlantic. And with frogs, there's no data, no tracking, no stock management. We really should have learned our lesson with fish, but it seems we haven't. This is a wake-up call," Bradshaw said. A 2008 research paper, titled "Eating Frogs to Extinction" by Ian G Warkentin, David Bickford, Navjot S Sodhi and Corey JA Bradshaw, noted that over-exploitation in seas had "caused a chain reaction of fisheries collapses around the world" and frog harvesters appeared to be following the same pattern. Though the situation in India is not of an over-consumption of frog meat which is threatening the species' existence, that the amphibians are still under duress due to other factors cannot be ignored. As Biju puts it, "People behave as if tigers are the only threatened species. No one is bothered about frogs even though their population is fast depleting." All images source: Wikipedia    
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