Sell­ing 600 frogs to save them from poach­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

QUITO, Ecuador — Poach­ers in Ecuador have long known the hefty prices their coun­try’s rare frogs can fetch. But now en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious com­pa­nies are start­ing to sell the am­phib­ians too — to try to save them from the black mar­ket and threat­ened ex­tinc­tion.

In San Rafael, just out­side the cap­i­tal Quito, the sci­en­tific com­pany Wikiri is rais­ing 12 species of frog. Some are na­tive only to Ecuador, while oth­ers are at risk at dis­ap­pear­ing from their nat­u­ral habi­tat else­where.

Af­ter be­ing raised in hun­dreds of ter­rar­i­ums, they are sent to Canada, the United States, Ja­pan and var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries for up to $600 each.

That high value “gives you an idea just how prof­itable that ac­tiv­ity (frog poach­ing) can be,” said Lola Guarderas, man­ager of the fa­cil­ity.

To il­lus­trate her point, Guarderas showed a glass frog, with translu­cent skin through which its or­gans and beat­ing red heart could be seen, as it moved along the edge of its con­tainer.

On the com­pany’s grounds — 5,000 square me­ters made up of big gar­dens along­side a river — the frogs are re­pro- duced in labs so as not to af­fect lo­cal fauna.

They are then put into an “eth­i­cal bio-trade” cir­cuit that is the op­po­site of the poach­ers’ il­le­gal smug­gling and sales.

“It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent from the il­le­gal trade in species, of those who go di­rectly into ar­eas to catch all (the frogs) they can to then ex­port them, to the detri­ment of the an­i­mals in the for­est,” Guarderas said.

As well as run­ning the frog farm, she is a co­or­di­na­tor for the Jam­batu Cen­ter, which re­searches and pre­serves am­phib­ians, and is hosted by Wikiri.

Ecuador is home to one of the big­gest dis­plays of bio­di­ver­sity on the planet.

It holds more than 600 species of frogs, of which nearly half can be found only in the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to Ecuador’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, 186 of the species are at risk of be­com­ing ex­tinct.

Au­thor­i­ties have banned the cap­ture and sale of all wild an­i­mals.

But that hasn’t stopped the il­le­gal trade from the Ama­zon — sprawled across Brazil, Peru, Colom­bia, Bo­livia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana and Suri­name.

The ac­tiv­ity is es­ti­mated to have brought in $1.3 bil­lion for those in­volved be­tween 2005 and 2014, eco­log­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions say.

Ac­cord­ing to Ecuador’s En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry, 18 frog species have al­ready ap­par­ently dis­ap­peared.

RO­DRIGO BUENDIA / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sci­en­tists work at the am­phib­ian con­ser­va­tion cen­ter near Quito in Ecuador, which pro­vides rare frogs and toads for the global pet mar­ket.

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