TAKING A LEAP FOR FROGS

Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Manager, EWT Threatened Amphibian Programme
JeanneT@ewt.org.za

The EWT’s Leap Day for Frogs campaign has been running for six years, with the 2020 iteration taking place during a Leap Year. This year our theme, ‘Take the Leap’, invited the public to take a leap of faith in doing something towards recognising the importance of our amphibious friends.

Globally, amphibians remain the most threatened back-boned animals on Earth, with the latest assessments showing 41% of species in this group as being threatened with extinction. That’s a huge proportion of an ancient group of animals that has been successful over the past 300 million years, inhibiting all corners of the planet – except in places that are too cold, too hot or too far away (amphibians can’t make it to some of the more isolated islands, for example the Galapagos have no amphibians). But now, because of loss of habitat, pollution of freshwater and a deadly fungus, amphibians are facing a very real and rapid demise. A warning that our changing planet is not able to support life in the way that it should.

These sobering statistics are not exactly cause for celebration, so why have fun in the name of frogs? Leap Day for Frogs is about highlighting the plight of these creatures, but creating an appreciation for them is the first step towards recognition of their importance. Leap Day for Frogs aims to do this, and invites members of the public to get involved in whichever way they see fit – be this frog art or poetry at schools, cleaning up a local wetland, learning more about frogs or playing a game of leap frog

We are relatively fortunate in South Africa where 20 of our 135 frog species are threatened, so not quite as high a proportion as globally. We are also blessed with an amazing diversity of frogs that inhabit our vast array of habitats from montane fynbos in the west, to coastal forest in the east and everything in between – rain frogs, ghost frogs, stream frogs, puddle frogs, Giant Bullfrogs, tree frog….the list goes on.

For Leap Year this year we had over 1,250 people taking part in activities around the country, ranging from Highland dancers doing a fling for frogs, frog tattoos, school groups learning about frogs and wetlands, to park runners dressing up as frogs. As the EWT, we partnered for the 6th consecutive year with Kloof Conservancy to run a fun day of activities and a night frog walk at Ipithi Nature Reserve in Gillitts on 29 February. Turnout was great, considering the cold and wet weather, with 120 people attending. Local artist, Giffy Duminy, also raised awareness by painting incredible frog murals under the Elizabeth Bridge in Kloof. In Cape Town, our project team there led an exciting walk in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, finding several frog species, including tadpoles of the Critically Endangered Table Mountain Ghost Frog – our flagship species for a conservation research project we are coordinating on the mountain.

It is wonderful to see this event growing in reach year after year and a genuine interest from young and old alike in what really are some of the most fascinating creatures we are lucky enough to share the planet with.

This work is made possible by Rand Merchant Bank, Disney Conservation Fund and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens