Saturday, June 11, 2011
The Indian Bull Frog- in eminent danger.
The South West monsoons have swept across the state and pulled a luxuriant green carpet on our wild as well as urban landscapes. Amidst the sprouting of new shoots and the flowering of seasonal herbs are the distinct calls of the frogs that herald the arrival of the monsoons- a season of vibrant life and joy… for most species except the frogs themselves!
This is because this is also a time when every Tom, Dick and Harry would don his rainwear and carry his faithful torch to systematically hunt selective and yet important species of frogs for the platter. Considered as Jumping Chicken, a local delicacy for many Goans, the trend of hunting the Indian Bull frog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus) has now reached appalling proportions.
Across every landscape in the night be it the neighborhood field or plateau, stream or road, one finds groups of youth and old go around catching these important species in their hundreds with the help of powerful torches and lanterns much oblivious of the fact that they are contributing to the local extinction of a key indicator species of amphibian just to satisfy their own taste buds.
The Indian Bull Frog is an enigmatic species that used to be found across the state of Goa and was an integral component of any local ecosystem be it a pond, well or field till the upsurge in poaching of this species about 8 years ago. Being one of the largest of its genus and family, this species can be easily identified by its large size and clear tiger like striped pattern on its body. The coloration varies from pale yellow to deep yellowish brown and some individuals also sport tinges of green along the flanks. The sub adults are greener and breeding males sport a bright chrome yellow color.
Being a slow moving frog, this species is an easy target for predators including small carnivores and birds of prey and is a vital ink in any pond or terrestrial ecosystem. Besides which the Indian Bull frog feeds on a variety of prey itself and this includes various species of insects, rodents and even reptiles like smaller snakes and lizards. There have been records where individuals have preyed upon roosting kingfishers and sunbirds at night too! But the most important prey of the tadpoles of this species is the larvae of mosquitoes which are kept under control where some populations thrive, and are an example of how biological controllers can help prevent diseases and help save lives.
But today the Indian Bull frog is fighting a losing battle in almost all its past habitats in our state due to a variety of reasons including extensive poaching, habitat loss and alteration and usage of pesticide.
Despite a ban on the hunting of Frogs in the state, the so called pastime, sport, trade and consumption continues unabated and is a fact that has been accepted not only by Government officials and wildlifers alike but also known by every neighborhood group of youth who head to selected areas at nightfall for poaching this species. The Goa Forest department ahs resorted to creating awareness and ensuring that at least the protected area network of our sanctuaries is free from Frog hunting- which is quite a task in itself, but outside that, the poachers continue to have field day when it comes to hunting frogs for the platter.
The need to enforce the Ban of hunting is vital and requires attention at two levels. The trade has to be aborted at the supply end where poachers can be apprehended by teams of officials of the Wildlife division and the Goa Police and the demand has to be abolished by raids being conducted by officials on establishment and outlets serving frog meat as a delicacy! Let us be clear that the trade would never end if the demand is not stopped and this can only be addressed by taking strict action including cancellation of establishment licenses, attachment of equipment including of vehicles used for transportation of poached frogs, etc. this would not only send a strong signal to those who tend to defy the law but would also help the depleting populations of the Indian Bull frog to a certain extent.
Besides which we need to understand that the change in land use pattern has reduced vital breeding areas and left little space for this amphibian species to breed and sustain a healthy population, thanks to the rise in haphazard development especially on all our plateau areas in the state. The extensive usage of pesticides has further pushed these crucial indicators of healthy ecosystems to the brink of local extinction as our farmlands and orchards are now repeatedly being abused with inorganic pesticides and fertilizers- which act as a toxin to scores of amphibian species including the Indian Bull frog in the adult and larval stage.
And while as concerned citizens, it is our duty to report Frog hunting to the nearest Forest Department office or Police station, what remains to be seen is how serious are the Government agencies in imposing the Ban of Frog Hunting this year. As the distinct calls of the Indian Bull frog are silenced in yet another locale day after day, the fact that remains to be seen is the period of time when the species would jump into local extinction…never to be seen again.