Conservation takes leap with backyard frog fans

Conservation takes leap with backyard frog fans

The realm of frogs and toads still remains largely unexplored in India which has 465 different species of amphibians of which frogs and toads constitute 420.

With their webbed feet, slimy skin and large eyes, frogs may appear repulsive, but “frog watchers” will beg to differ. A growing number of citizens are looking into their backyards to put a name to the amphibians living right under their noses.

Frog-watching workshops held across the state, like birding events, are helping citizens identify, understand and conserve the amphibians.

Teaching attendees about their appearance, calls, morphology and characteristics, the workshops are organised with the vision of bringing conservation science to the doorstep of common citizens.

The participants in these workshops range from 10 to 75.

“When we think of conservation, we think of large animals and generally miss out on lesser fauna like frogs and other amphibians,” says Kiran Bagade, who was the co-organiser for a workshop conducted before the pandemic in Melkote in Mandya district.

But frogs are an integral part of the food web. They also keep insect populations in check and save crops from extensive pest attacks.

The realm of frogs and toads still remains largely unexplored in India which has 465 different species of amphibians of which frogs and toads constitute 420. “We know about only 5% of the habitats, mating and feeding behaviour of the amphibians,” says Gururaja K V, a batrochologist.

Apart from species identification, enthusiasts can contribute to research through the Frog Watch app developed by the India Biodiversity Portal. Here, citizens can upload pictures, videos and audio to record their sightings of frogs. Six researchers across India moderate the discussions and validate the sightings.

“The app has been particularly useful in recording sightings of the Malabar Tree Toad, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature had categorised as endangered. When the project started in 2014, only eight sightings were recorded on the app. Now, there are 272 sightings,” says Gururaja.

This led to the realisation that the frog is not in fact endangered and is endemic to the Western Ghats. Such an effort would have taken a researcher about 10-15 years to achieve alone, he explains.

While such workshops were organised and attended by researchers and scientists in the past, more recently, they have seen the participation of citizens. “The workshop is inspired from frog watch expeditions near Bisle Ghat for scientists and naturalists,” says Bagade.

From 2019 onwards, they became more commonplace with one scheduled in May this year and another scheduled for July.

The exercise led participants to discover the dizzying varieties of frogs and toads present just in their backyards. Dhanush Shetty, a prospective PhD student, found 15-20 species of frogs around his house in Mysuru. “I found frogs that are as big as a nail to the size of a bullfrog,” he says.

A participant was able to identify 23 different species on the Mysuru ring road. “We think that we are seeing just two or three species, but we don’t realise the diversity,” Amogha Varsha, a 19-year-old, has been involved in co-organising two workshops.

When Nisarga Srinivasa, a software professional, attended a workshop last year, she did not even know the difference between frogs and toads. “I learnt about the different calls of the frogs, the size difference between male and female and started noticing them everywhere,” she says.

Some species, like the bullfrog, are considered delicacies and in the past, frogs were smuggled to Goa and Kerala from Karnataka. Gururaja believes that such workshops could help and educate people on the impact of hunting rare species. “It could help change their mindset,” he believes.

Conservation takes leap with backyard frog fans