Sell­ing $600 frogs-to save them from poach­ers

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Poach­ers in Ecuador have long known the hefty prices their coun­try’s rare frogs can fetch. But now en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious firms 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,” Lola Guarderas, man­ager of the fa­cil­ity, told AFP. 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 (54,000 square feet) made up of big gar­dens along­side a river-the frogs are re­pro­duced 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.

Break­through lab re­pro­duc­tion

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, a rel­a­tively small South Amer­i­can na­tion, 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. Re­cently, the Jam­batu Cen­ter an­nounced some­thing of a break­through: The re­pro­duc­tion in cap­tiv­ity for the first time of Atelo­pus ig­nescens, or the Quito stub­foot toad. The black am­phib­ian used to be wide­spread in Ecuador’s Andean re­gions but was thought to have become ex­tinct three decades ago-un­til a tiny pop­u­la­tion was found last year. Forty-three of the toads were taken to the Jam­batu Cen­ter which, af­ter sev­eral tries, man­aged to pro­cure 500 tad­poles from one cou­ple.

Il­le­gal traf­fick­ing is ‘big’

In to­tal, the re­search fa­cil­ity works on around 40 species typ­i­cally found in Ecuador or oth­er­wise na­tive to sev­eral other South Amer­i­can coun­tries. A dozen are of­fered for ex­port, in­clud­ing the Aga­ly­ch­nis spurrelli, or glid­ing tree frog; the Cruzio­hyla cal­car­ifer, or splen­did leaf frog, with its striped yel­low belly and long legs; and the Hyali­no­ba­tra­chium au­re­ogut­ta­tum, which has a translu­cent body dot­ted with yel­low spots. Around 500 frogs per year are sold, adding to an an­nual flow from other Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries that amounts to as many as 7,000, sent ev­ery­where in the world.

The hope is to un­der­mine the black mar­ket traf­fick­ing of the an­i­mals. “Il­licit traf­fick­ing in am­phib­ians in the world is a very big ac­tiv­ity,” bi­ol­o­gist Luis Coloma, di­rec­tor of the Jam­batu Cen­ter, told AFP. That ac­tiv­ity adds to other dan­gers faced by the frogs, some species of which risk sud­den ex­tinc­tion as their habi­tat is wiped out by en­croach­ment, pol­lu­tion or cli­mate change. Ac­cord­ing to Ecuador’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, 18 frog species have al­ready ap­par­ently dis­ap­peared, rob­bing the coun­try of some of its rich bio­di­ver­sity. —

SAN RAFAEL, Ecuador: Sci­en­tists work at the am­phib­ian con­ser­va­tion cen­ter Jam­batu, in the lo­cal­ity of San Rafael, south­east Quito. — AFP photos

SAN RAFAEL, Ecuador: View of a ‘di­a­blito’ frog (Den­dro­bates syl­vati­cus).

SAN RAFAEL, Ecuador: View of a mar­su­pial frog (Gas­trotheca Oro­phy­lax) at the am­phib­ian con­ser­va­tion cen­ter Jam­batu.

SAN RAFAEL, Ecuador: View of a Cristal del Sol frog (Hyali­no­ba­tra­chium au­re­ogut­ta­tum).

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