All for the Sake of Some Frog Legs

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Published on February 5th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

One of the many frog species of Indonesia. Photo credit Nardiyono

I have worked in Indonesian conservation for over 15 years, and have a pretty good picture of what’s going on. At least so I thought — until I was confronted with a recent study on the consumption of frog legs.

As it turns out, the annual global trade in frogs for human consumption has increased over the past 20 years. Estimates of total annual consumption now range from 200 million to possibly over 1 billion frogs.

“So what?” you might think. That’s at most one pair of frog legs per year for every one out of six people on earth. Hardly earth-shattering matter.

But apparently Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of frogs by far. Not only that: Indonesia has a domestic frog market that is 2-7 times as big as its total export. Whatever the numbers are, a whole lot of frogs are harvested in this country. And I would like to know the ecological impact of that harvest.

What are the impacts for vertebrates like snakes and storks feeding on frogs, and also the impact of declining frog populations on the insect they normally feed on?

In all these years in Indonesia, I have never actually heard of or seen major frog collecting. How can I have completely overlooked this trade? Where is this happening and by whom? Trade in snakes, turtles, birds, and of course mammals such as orangutans are well documented, but frogs….

I checked the scientific literature but couldn’t find anything relevant. So the scientists don’t seem to be aware either. I found some information searching the Web, but not much and all of it years out-of-date. One document referred to President Suharto — whom, it said, “has been urging an expansion of his country’s frog legs industry.” But Suharto stepped down as president of Indonesia over 10 years ago, so that wasn’t too relevant either.

All this leaves me even more confused. If this trade is as massive as suggested, we should know more about it, understand who and what is driving it, and what its impacts are. For now I am stuck with some unconnected strands of information.

If you know more than I do, please pass this on. And I will make sure to ask around next time I am in or near frog habitats.

(Image: One of the many frog species in Indonesia. Credit: Nardiyono.)

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