Friday, 20 March 2009

Save the Frogs

The red kite conservation programme posted about below is a reminder of how well efforts to protect threatened species can work. Amphibians are currently in special need of such care and their cause is being promoted by Save the Frogs Day (April 28th). The campaign tries to draw attention to the fact that amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on earth: nearly one-third of the world’s 6,435 amphibian species are threatened with extinction and at least 150 species have completely disappeared since 1979. This is the beginning of a mass extinction unmatched for this group in the fossil record.

Save the Frogs point out that amphibians play an important role in ecosystems, for example by cleaning waterways (as tadpoles) and eating pest species like mosquitoes that spread disease. It might help us to care more about amphibians to know that approximately 10% of Nobel prizes in physiology and medicine have resulted from investigations that used amphibians. These animals are often spoken of as important bio-indicators: their moist skins make them sensitive to environmental change and (according to Save the Frogs again) ‘their disappearance signifies the Earth’s environment is out of balance and portends potential negative consequences for humans’.

In my post about forests I questioned the rhetoric of ‘saving’ forests since they can’t actually be ‘saved’ – we can only avoid cutting them down. The same applies to ‘saving’ frogs. It is a clear slogan, sounds quite funny and is emotive at the same time. Perhaps what we’re really talking about is stopping killing frogs but this does sound rather negative and aggressive. If the campaign said ‘stop killing frogs’ this would puzzle many who would (reasonably?) feel that they don’t kill frogs.  At least ‘save’ suggests that frogs are something we should cherish. Still, I’m uncomfortable with it and would be interested to hear other views on this question. Religious language is often used within the conservation movement – is that something we should embrace as powerful or reject as misleading?

Back to the campaign for now: what is killing frogs and how can we ‘save’ them? Amphibians are affected by pollution, pesticides, habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species, infectious diseases, and over-harvesting for the pet, food and bait trades’. Habitat destruction is key, as is the spread of the chytrid fungus (often spread by human activity, especially along roads and other trade routes). Climate change appears to be strengthening the virulence of this disease. Here is the campaign’s list of what we should do:

This list is a little eccentric. Don’t eat frog’s legs and drive slower? They do give a fuller list on their website with lots of reasonable explanations and suggestions. Apparently Europeans alone consumed roughly 120 million frogs per year in the 1990's. So I’m not greatly empowered by this list since I've never eaten frog, don’t drive, don’t have a pond and don’t plan to become a herpetologist (which sounds a bit unpleasant). Here are my three suggestions for stopping killing frogs:

-   support campaigns to stop deforestation

-   work to keep climate change below 2C

-   spread the word about Save the Frogs day


  1. Hi Kathleen,

    thanks for the great blog. It was interesting to hear about the frogs demise against the resurgence of the kites. Of course the kites problems were due to people directly killing them and when this stopped their numbers increased with some help (like elephants, rhinos, whales...) . With the frogs it seems things a different: you say in your blog that the key issue is protecting their environment/habitat. I was wondering if there are any cases of animals that were close to extinction because of habitat destruction but following a change of policy returned to flourish?

  2. Thanks for the comment and question! Unfortunately I don't know any examples of species restored by reversing habitat destruction, though I expect there are cases and could be many more in the future. The difference between kites and the frogs might suggest a shift in patterns of human-driven extinctions from direct persecution to indirect destruction, which is probably harder to halt. By the way, you mentioned rhino numbers increasing. Unfortunately the black rhino may already a 'ghost species', existing in such small numbers that it cannot recover because of limitations in the gene pool. The western black rhino was tentatively declared extinct in 2006.

  3. I didn't realise I was responsible for so much frogicide. I liked your comment on the religious tones of the campaign name but cannot find a suitable substitute for 'save', except 'hug', obviously. However, I do think that actually instead of appealing to the public (excuse me for assuming that most people may think 'what do I have to save now then?'), perhaps they should join a wider campaign for conservation and receive funds from them?

  4. Exactly - we could call this malaise 'saviour fatigue'.