After sparrows, frogs too vanish

Rakesh Kochhar

MONSOON has been in full swing. Rivers are in spate and there is waterlogging everywhere. But something is missing. There is no croaking of frogs to break the monotony of silence when the rain stops. There are no hopping frogs when you open the door to step out! Frogs and earthworms have been an integral part of monsoon for decades, possibly centuries. Most people older than those in the second decade of their lives would recollect the fun of chasing the ubiquitous frog at home or in school. But something has changed.

I was struck by the absence of the croaking of frogs when I ventured out after a downpour last week. My wife confirmed that the encounters with the jumping jacks are a thing of the past. It has been five-six years that the frogs have vanished, just like sparrows. I talked to some children in the neighbourhood and they wondered what I was discussing!

Intrigued, I googled. Way back in 1991, John Gilhen of Nova Scotia Museum, US, had written an article, ‘Where have all the frogs gone?’ He attributed the disappearance to rapid urbanisation and development with new roads, highways and sprawling townships. However, he found out that away from populated areas, into wilder areas, there were still plenty of frogs. Perhaps the same is the case in India. While we do not see sparrows in urban areas anymore, you will sight them easily in the open spaces of Himachal Pradesh.

Another reason for the disappearance of frogs, environmental experts say, is a fungal infection. Chytrid fungus, which infects skin cells of frogs, is responsible for the wiping out of entire populations. Infections can wipe out 50 per cent of the amphibians in an area within six months. Other reasons are loss of habitat, introduction of invasive species and pollution. One wonders if the radiation of mobile towers is also responsible.

The disappearance of frogs is a worldwide phenomenon. At the Kerala Science Congress earlier this year, a delegate from Delhi University said the shrinking rate of frogs worldwide was 74 per cent, but in India it was 80 per cent. He suggested measures should be taken to prevent the extinction of amphibians.

Frogs have been an important part of our ecosystem, playing a vital role by controlling pests and linking the terrestrial and aquatic foodchain. Frogs feed on mosquitoes and pests and provide food for fish, mammals and birds. It has been suggested that there is a link between the dwindling numbers of frogs and the increase in incidence of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue.

Amphibians are environmental indicators because of their sensitivity towards small changes in environment, according to an article in Scientific American. Looking at the impending ecological disaster, we must act now. Indeed, there is an organisation, ‘Save the Frogs’ which needs all our support.

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