Unprecedented declines in amphibian populations have been much in the news lately. Linked to a number of factors, including an emerging disease (Chytrid fungus infection), frog extinctions are being documented the world over, and herpetologists are scrambling to save those that remain. Yet the international trade in frog legs remains largely unregulated, and is considered by many to serve only a limited market for “exotic foods”. However, a recent report, Canapés to Extinction: the International Trade in Frog’s Legs (July 26, 2011) reveals the trade’s shocking volume and impact on frogs and their habitats.
Trade Kills 1,000,000,000+ Frogs in US Alone
The extent of the frog leg trade in the USAis surprisingly large. The USAannually imports 4.6 million pounds of frog legs, representing an estimated 1.1 billion frogs, and 4.4 million pounds of live frogs! These figures, and those mentioned below, are bare minimums, as they do not include locally farmed and collected frogs and those that are not reported to regulatory authorities.
The European Union imports a staggering 9.2 million pounds of frog legs, or 2.3 billion frogs, each year. Most are wild caught in Indonesia…a sad comment on the EU’s conservation ethics, considering that native European frogs may not be collected.
My Early Experiences
I haunted the food markets in NYC’s Chinese community as a child, purchasing live frogs for pets at amazingly low prices. Indian Bullfrogs and Asian Green Pond Frogs (please see photos) were my most common acquisitions, although a few oddities showed up as well.
In the early 1980’s I was involved in food market confiscations, and saw that those two species still dominated the trade. By the mid-1980’s, populations crashed in India and Bangladesh, and they were replaced by American Bullfrogs. Both species are now protected and recovering… please see below for details.
Food Trade’s Affect on other Conservation Issues
The trade in frog legs adds to other woes facing amphibians, but this fact is largely underappreciated. For example, the 3- 4 billion frogs known to be harvested each year consume literally tons of insects, many of which threaten crops and human health. One study showed that an American Toad (a smaller animal than those in the trade) may eat over 20,000 insects in a single summer…how many would billions of much larger frogs consume?! In fact, when the trade decimated frog populations inSouth Asia, pesticide use immediately soared. After the main trade species were protected in 1985, populations recovered and pesticide use declined significantly.
Shipping live frogs to foreign countries has been tied to Chytrid outbreaks in areas that had formerly been free of the deadly amphibian disease. In theUSA, the problem is exacerbated by a shockingly large trade in amphibians destined for use as fishing bait (please see article below).
Escapes from frog farms represent yet another spillover from the trade. Transplanted American Bullfrogs are now threatening local insects, amphibians and even rare turtles (Western Pond Turtles in California) in the western USA, Brazil, Japan and elsewhere.
What can be Done?
Unfortunately, none of the frogs that figure in the international trade are given any CITES or, in most cases, local protection. However, the main markets in Europe and the USAare well-identified and conservation law enforcement would, in theory, be effective. The same cannot be said of many of the countries where frogs are collected or farmed. Please see this article for useful contacts if you are interested in helping out.
In the spring of this year, International Save the Frogs Day sought to draw attention to the plight of the world’s amphibians. NYC’s participation, sponsored by such groups as the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society and Save the Frogs, highlighted local issues, including the fact that an ever-popular eatery, Nathan’s Famous onConey Island, continues to serve frog legs.
The Current Situation in the USA
I’m sorry to say that I still come across huge numbers of American Bullfrogs, Chinese Soft-shelled Turtles and Red-Eared Sliders kept under appalling conditions in NYC food markets. Contacts inform me that the same is true throughout the country.
My efforts to address this problem with the help of the US FDA years ago met with failure, and little has changed since. As was the case when I received confiscated frogs in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, most of the animals offered for sale are injured and diseased, and would not likely survive even if rescued.
Full text (20 pages) of The International Trade in Frog’s Legs
Salamanders as Fishing Bait, USA
Proposed Limits on Amphibian Sales in USA
Indian Bullfrog image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Saleem Hameed
Euphlyctis hexadactylus image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Saleem Hameed
Swikee_Kodok_Oh_with_Rice image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Gunkarta
Great article Frank. The amount of frogs killed is staggering.as well as sickening
it’s especially troubling to know that so many are wild-caught. Farming has it’s downsides, of course, but in the right environment several species are relativelt easy to raise in large numbers’; whwere this has been done, pressure comes off wild populations, best, frank