Monday, July 18, 2011

India's most wanted -- frogs

Reproduction - Sunday Mid-Day, 17th July 2011


A few weeks ago, Dr SD Biju, an eminent Indian amphibian researcher, was leading volunteers in the forests surrounding Mirik Lake in Darjeeling, West Bengal. They were on the lookout for frogs belonging to that region. Here, it's not habitat destruction that has led to the frogs' disappearance, but the fact that locals comsume them.

This is only one of the few obstacles faced by this team that functions under the umbrella organisation Lost Amphibians of India (LAI), launched in November 2010 with the plan to travel the country to rediscover India's 'lost' amphibians.

Sadly, over 50 species of amphibians in India, mostly frogs and caecilians, are thought to have gone extinct, since noone has seen them for 10 years. Some have not been seen for 18, others for 169 years. The figures are dire when one considers that about 60 per cent of Indian amphibians are not found anywhere else in the world.

Dr Biju, coordinator and brainchild, LAI, says, "They have existed for centuries and have seen many animals go extinct. But now this category is quickly disappearing too."

He thinks the reason is habitat loss. "Many might still be around but won't be for long if steps are not taken to conserve them."

The expedition team, apart from scouring the country looking for lost species and studying them, is also trying to involve the locals and forest department officials in conservation. But it's not easy. Most of these areas are marshlands, rainforests or protected areas. Plus, these animals come only at night.

But results are emerging. The LAI has already rediscovered five species of frogs that were considered extinct. These include the green Chalazodes Bubble-Nest Frog in Tamil Nadu, sighted after 136 years, the Anamalai Dot-Frog, from Kerala after 73 years, the Elegant Torrent Frog, from Karnataka after 73 years, the Stream Frog from Uttarakhand after 25 years, and the Silent Valley Tropical Frog from Kerala after 30 years.

Over 19 expeditions have already been undertaken this year. Dr Biju says, "We have found some interesting species that are being identified. Many are probably lost species, while some may be never-before-identified.

We will make an announcement about the findings in September."

While amphibians are facing extinction worldover, he says steps are being taken to conserve them in other countries. "Here, conservation activities are geared towards only certain animals," he says.

Dr Caesar Sengupta, a wildlife photographer who participated in many of LAI's expeditions, says, "Conservation activities in India focus only on the tiger and the elephant. While they are equally important, so are amphibians. Without them, there will be a major bio-diversity shift."

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