Promoting leap year to save leaping amphibians

2014-01-27 00:00

FEBRUARY is a leap year and a great opportunity for frog enthusiasts to promote their interests in the month of love.

Some think of love and roses but others may take this opportunity to pucker up and kiss their frog prince.

Hillcrest’s Jeanne Tarrant from the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP) would like to encourage people to remember that frogs are a vital part of the local eco-system. She and her team are planning a special education day on February 28 for environmentalists to educate them about frogs.

Amphibians are currently the most threatened class of vertebrate on Earth, according to the EWT website, with 32% of species being red-listed as critically endangered. In total, 43% of species globally are experiencing population declines.

Since the 1980s, 200 species of frogs have become extinct. Frogs have been made iconic through characters like Kermit on the Muppet Show and stories like the Frog Princess but not many people know how vital they are to our eco-system.

It is Tarrant’s job to educate people about frogs and their need for survival in a rapidly threatened environment.

When she began to investigate a career in environmental research she did not imagine herself studying frogs.

“I went into researching frogs by default and since then I have become fascinated with them and I have learnt so much about them. People have varied reactions to frogs, they either don’t like frogs because they fear them or because they think they are disgusting. But the more you learn the more you realise how important they are.

“We need to identify where frog numbers are dwindling and create support networks to do monitoring and evaluation to stop the destruction of their habitat.

“They do not get as much attention as the Big Five because they are often small and unseen, and only come out at night. But these frogs do a vital job and some people are championing their role.

“Amphibians are crucial in the food-chain through their role as both predator and prey; they consume vast numbers of insects [including pests and disease vectors such as mosquitoes] and provide food to a wide range of animals. As tadpoles they have an important function in keeping waterways clean by feeding on algae.”

Tarrant has been doing research on a highly endangered coastal frog called the Pickersgill’s Reed Frog, which lives in the coastal wetland.

It is critically endangered because much of its habitat has been destroyed through agricultural, industrial and urban development.

In South Africa, 30% of our frogs are red-listed as critically endangered; Western Cape has the most serious problem followed by KwaZulu-Natal.

Tarrant has asked frog lovers and environmentalists to use the month of February to promote Leap Year and the cause of the frog. “We do not want them to croak!”

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