January 19, 2009

Frogs At Risk Of Being “˜Eaten To Extinction’

While reports of global warming, disease and a changing habitat endangering amphibians are familiar, conservationists are now warning that frogs might be in danger of being eaten to extinction.

According to a report in New Scientist, gastronomic demand is reducing regional populations of amphibians to the point of no return. The report cites David Bickford of the National University of Singapore and his colleagues as calling for additional monitoring and regulation of the global frog meat market in order to avoid the species being "eaten to extinction."

Data regarding imports and exports of frog legs is sparse, as only a small number of countries monitor the amount of domestic harvesting and consumption of the meat. However United Nations figures show that global trade has grown over the past two decades, with France and the United States the two largest importers.  Indeed, between 2,500 and 4,000 tons of frog meat were imported each year from France alone since 1995.

Frog legs are also very popular in Asia, where Bickford estimates that 180 million to over a billion frogs are harvested annually.

"That is based on both sound data and an estimate of local consumption for just Indonesia and China," he told New Scientist.

"The actual number, I suspect, is quite a bit larger and my 180 million bare minimum is almost laughably conservative."

Some top French chefs may be unaware of precisely where their frogs are harvested.

"I would like for them to come from France," said Bruno Stril, teaching chef at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris, acknowledging that he is unsure where his suppliers source their frog legs.

However, he told New Scientist he expects that most of the meat likely comes from other countries.

Stril is correct.  Indonesia, the world's largest exporter of frog meat, exports more than 5,000 tons of frog meat each year, mostly to France, Belgium and Luxemburg.   And Bickford said the fact that European kitchens are now importing frog meat from Asia suggests the local populations are over-harvested.   These kitchens originally found their own supplies in the surrounding countryside.

The scientists said this could be an indication that frogs, like some fish populations, will be harvested to near extinction.

"Overexploitation in the seas has caused a chain reaction of fisheries collapses around the world," the researchers wrote in a report about their research.

"This experience should motivate better management of other exploited wild populations."

James Collins of the World Conservation Union said the Californian red-legged frog provides some evidence for the theory.  The species was initially harvested for food during the 19th-century gold rush in California, ultimately causing populations to crash.

But Collins is cautious, telling New Scientist that "at the moment we have no data indicating that commercial exploitation has led to the extinction of any amphibian species."

He called Bickford research worrisome, but inconclusive.

Since most harvested frogs are skinned, butchered and frozen prior to export, it is difficult to know with certainty the precise species being killed.  For instance, Indonesia is believed to export primarily crab-eating frogs, giant Jana frogs, and American bullfrogs.  

Additionally, it is not certain how much meat is consumed within Indonesia, but some studies indicate it could be between two and seven times the amount exported.

"There are a heck of a lot of frogs being eaten," Bickford said.

"Much more than most people have a clue about."


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