“What is there to life… if man cannot hear the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?”
— Chief Seattle
By Bittu Sahgal
Today the planet is witnessing frog die offs at unprecedented rates. Over one-third of all frogs across the globe are threatened with extinction. By some estimates, between the time Sanctuary Asia was launched in 1981 to today, we have lost something like 200 frog species. Scientists say the normal rate of frog extinction probably used to be one species every 500 years.
“While people like you worry about tigers, right under your nose Rana tigrina is vanishing,” thundered the late Humayun Abdulali, as only he could, at a Bombay Natural History Society Conservation Committee meeting we both attended in the early 1980s. How right he was. How right he still is. Back then, giants like him battled powerful money-men who justified killing 150 million frogs each year because it earned a dollar-starved India US$ 15 million annually from the United States and Western Europe. Abdulali argued that wiping out frogs would lead to a malaria epidemic since frogs eat huge quantities of mosquitoes. Predictably, using a strategy still in play, the money-men hired scientists to counter this by planting ‘reasonable doubt’ suggesting “frogs also ate earthworms, slugs, millipedes and other smaller frogs.”
Unlike most field biologists of today, Humayun realised that a diversity of arguments would be needed to save the frogs, including the issue of cruelty. He graphically described how he witnessed hundreds of unemployed people gathering in the wetlands around Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, stuffing frogs into sacks, dipping them in a cold saline solution and transporting them to crude ‘factories’ where their legs would be cut off, and the living animals would be left to bleed painfully to death.
Abdulali’s decade-long argument won an export ban in 1985. But frogs are still in trouble. Today humans kill more frogs than ever before in the history of life on Earth, using pesticides, destroying wetlands and dealing them a coup de grace by changing the planet’s climate.
At the rate we are going, it seems clear that it’s not just the frogs… even Homo sapiens will soon be left with no legs to stand on.