Amphibians

 

According to many conservation scientists, amphibians may be facing extinction. Amphibians are an essential part of the food chain, as they are top insectivores and prey for other animals; numerous medicines use ingredients extracted from amphibians, and new ingredients keep being discovered.

 

Such amphibian class representatives as frogs, salamanders and caecilians have been on the decline for some time. Pollution, global warming and habitat destruction from human development have been devastating: water and land have become dangerous places to inhabit, filled with acidic toxins from industries and pesticides used in farming; large amounts of lead coming from car exhaust are deposited in ponds and lakes. Rising temperatures disrupt breeding and hibernation patterns making amphibians more vulnerable to weather changes and more susceptible to disease.

 

Every year, hundreds of millions of frogs are killed, their legs exported and consumed worldwide. As a result, collapses of frog populations in Europe and North America are being followed by declines in India and Bangladesh and now potentially Indonesia. Losses of these insect eaters have meant significantly increased use of insecticides, at a cost often higher than the revenue from frog leg exports. The added environmental costs adds insult to injury.

 

More losses are suffered because amphibians are often kept as pets, often in stressful conditions; it is not uncommon that they are get flushed down the toilet when kids grow tired of them.

 

In addition to human influence, a newly identified parasitic fungus (chytrid fungus) is speeding up the demise of amphibians worldwide. The fungus coats the frog’s skin and makes its pores non-functional; clogged pores make it difficult to breathe and as a result, the frog dies from dehydration. Multi-million dollar projects have been launched worldwide to capture and treat groups of amphibians before release back into the wild. At this moment, only experimental treatments have been applied, with little success in improving the survival rates; no perfect treatment has been found as of yet.

 


Why should we care?

 

  • Amphibians play an important role in the food web as both predator and prey; they are a top insectivore which benefits agriculture and minimizes spread of disease.
  • Pain killers rely on frogs for at least one active ingredient.
  • AIDS researchers have found a chemical in frogs that seems to have an anti-HIV effect.
  • Frog skin has substances that protect them from some microbes and viruses, offering promising medical cures for a variety of human diseases.

 

Fast facts

 

  • Over 200 amphibian species have experienced recent population declines, and 32% of all amphibians are now threatened with extinction.
  • Frogs have lost an estimated 170 species in the last decade, with another 1,900 in a threatened state.
  • There are reports that two-thirds of several amphibian species in Central and South America are gone.
  • The annual global trade in frogs for human consumption has increased over the past 20 years with at least 200 million and maybe over 1 billion frogs consumed every year.
  • The recently discovered chytrid fungus has devastating effects on amphibian populations: it is estimated that the parasitic fungus can kill 80 per cent of native amphibians within months once it has taken hold. Projects have been launched worldwide to implement amphibian protection programs in zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums.

 

 

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