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What does a horny frog do?

Foremost authority on frog watching reveals in his new book ‘The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya’.



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Montane hour-glass tree frog


Horton plains shrub frog


By Sajitha Prematunge


It was inaudible at first but one gradually became aware of the multitude of throaty croaks that made for the frog call music of the evening. The Jetwing auditorium, Colombo 7, where the book was launched, was adorned with cardboard frogs peeping from leaves, in keeping its title. It was against this backdrop Ishanda Senevirathna launched his maiden book, a photographic guide to frog-watching. The first copies of ‘The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya’ were presented by Senevirathna to Jetwing Group Chairman, Hiran Cooray and Senevirathna senior.


A panel discussion on the importance of sustainable tourism and ethical wildlife experiences ensued, with the participation of experts in the wildlife field such as Professor Emeritus Sarath Kotagama; herpétologist, Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi, environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardana; Jetwing Group Chairman, Hiran Cooray and Jetwing Travels Managing Director, Shiromal Cooray.


According to the author the main purpose of the book is to raise awareness of the need to protect frogs and ensure that frog species are conserved before they leap to extinction and to promote frog watching as a unique tourism activity.


Indicator species


"They are the masters of camouflage and hopping and diving; they can scale almost any surface and they come in all shapes, sizes and colours." said Senevirathna. These agile creatures are nature’s acrobats and can jump up to 20 times their body length. Their sticky tongues are the secret to their bug catching prowess. Not to be mistaken with toads, frogs have wet, smooth skins. Their bulgy eyes provide 180 degree vision, that comes in handy at night. These cold-blooded amphibians have a backbone––which even some bipeds lack, so to speak.


There is nothing quite like hearing about frogs from a frog lover. So, what does a horny frog do? They fertilise their eggs externally. "The female lays the eggs and the male fertilises them by releasing his sperm on to them," explains Senevirathna, in a nonchalant tone.


But, more importantly frogs are an indicator species. They are environmental indicators due to the sensitivity of their semi-permeable skin, to pollution and other environmental changes. "Consequently, the environmental health of their habitat can be assessed by monitoring the frog population.


Frog diversity


There are 119 species of amphibians in Sri Lanka, 103 of these species are endemic to Sri Lanka. Of the seven frog species found in Nuwara Eliya six are endemic to Sri Lanka. The artificial wetland of Jetwing St. Andrew’s is a sanctuary for the rare, endemic and endangered wildlife. Among its inhabitants today are 33 plant species, 35 species of birds, four endemic reptiles and 12 butterfly species. Senevirathna has recorded seven species of frogs over the years in the artificial wetland, five of which are endemic and three are critically endangered. All these frog species are endemic to Sri Lanka. "All these frog species, found above 1,600 metres, are geographically restricted to the Sri Lankan montane forests," said Senevirathna, reiterating the importance of protecting this niche habitat.


Among the seven recorded four are easily spotted on the daily excursions conducted by him for guests of the hotel. At 7.00 pm Senevirathna gets up close and personal with the frogs, armed with flash lights so as to not to disturb them. God forbid, he and his troop of frog watching tourists may walk in on external fertilisation activity. According to Senevirathna, evening, when they are most active, is the best time of day to spot these elusive creatures. Once a frog is spotted flash lights are switched off to observe the frogs up close with the use of red light.


Hiran Cooray says the artificial wetland at Jetwing St. Andrew’s wasn’t set up in 2002 with business purposes. "It was purely out of love for nature." But, the wetland has now become an eco-tourism attraction with the frog watching tour being frequently booked by guests and by schools. Cooray praised the efforts made by Senevirathna to explore completely new areas of wildlife experiences. "Over the years, our naturalists have completely transformed wildlife excursions for our guests."


Threats


Senevirathna said that among the biggest threats to these amphibians are agro-chemicals, used in abundance in Nuwara Eliya. The use of wetlands for agricultural purposes is a major reason for loss of frog habitat. Roadkill and water pollutions are other threats that have contributed to these creatures being placed on the endangered list.


Prof. Kotagama said that if agro-chemicals were to be done away with, farmers had to abandon mono culture. "Mono culture is not the ideal frog habitat either, they prefer diversity," emphasised Prof Kotagama. In fact, home gardens like the ones promoted by Jetwing St. Andrew’s in their frog-friendly gardening competition in Nuwara Eliya is a case in point. The competition was initiated to raise public awareness of frogs and to encourage a shift from agro-chemical based agriculture to organic farming. The winner of the competition, Chameera Dinadh, was also felicitated at the event.


"As a sustainable effort at eco-tourism we hope to extend our frog watching activities to these gardens as well in the near future," said Senevirathna. Prof. Kotagama suggested that a network of such home gardens could lead to St. Andrew’s. "Which in a sense is not just hotel based tourism, but community based eco-tourism," said Prof Kotagama. He pointed out that there was a lot of potential for that venture as not only species conservation could go in line with it, but habitat conservation and livelihood development as well."


Frog watching


Senevirathna believes frog watching is an ideal way to raise public awareness of frogs and what threatens them. Tourism in Sri Lanka has boomed in resent past and eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing market segments. To top this off, Sri Lanka is recognized as one of the global amphibian hotspots. "Frog watching as an eco-tourism activity has huge potential in Sri Lanka," said Senevirathna. Costa Rica’s success in offering frog watching as an eco-tourism activity is a case in point. In fact, although it may seem like a novel concept, frog watching is offered as a tourist activity in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Tasmania, Lithuania, Peru, Ecuador, Madagascar, South Africa, India and Brazil.


So, where are we on the global frog scene? Herpétologist and frog researcher, Kelum Manamendra-Arachchi said Sri Lanka was a frog hotspot. "According to estimates there are 140 species of frogs, toads and Caecilians in Sri Lanka and 95 percent of which are endemic." Manamendra-Arachchi believes that there are 30 odd new species yet to be described.


Environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardana pointed out that since National Parks didn’t allow night time visits a more frog-friendly, controlled observation method was commendable."Keeping the frogs in an undisturbed environment is the first consideration," said Gunawardana, pointing out that frog watchers and home garden owners have to be equally considerate in this regard. He pointed out that ethical standards had deteriorated in other areas of tourism and Jetwing, as pioneers in frog watching tourism, should take the lead in setting high standards so others can follow. And remember frog watching is just that ‘watching’. They were not to be manhandled or adopted as pets.


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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