A voracious appetite for frogs’ legs among the French and Belgians is driving species in Indonesia, Turkey and Albania to the brink of extinction, according to a report.
Europe imports as many as 200 million mostly wild frogs every year, contributing to a serious depletion of native species abroad.
Scientists estimate that the Anatolian water frog could be extinct in Turkey by 2032, because of over-exploitation while other species such as the Albanian water frog are now threatened.
Export quotas for Indonesia’s Javan frog have also been withdrawn in a move that conservationists suspect may be as a result of population depletion.
Dr Sandra Altherr, the co-founder of the conservation charity Pro Wildlife, which co-authored the report said: “In Indonesia, as now also in Turkey and Albania, large frog species are dwindling in the wild, one after the other, causing a fatal domino effect for species conservation.”
“If the plundering for the European market continues, it’s highly likely that we will see more serious declines of wild frog populations and, potentially, extinctions in the next decade.”
Charlotte Nithart, the president of the French NGO Robin des Bois, which co-wrote the paper, said: “Frogs play a central role in the ecosystem as insect killers – and where frogs disappear, the use of toxic pesticides is increasing. Hence, the frogs’ legs trade has direct consequences not only for the frogs themselves, but for biodiversity and ecosystem health as a whole.”
Amphibians are the most threatened group among vertebrates, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the EU’s habitats directive prevents native wild frogs from being caught in member countries.
The 27-country bloc does not restrict imports, however, and every year about 4,070 tonnes of frogs netted abroad are served up on European plates.
The craving for frog meat appears highest in Belgium, which takes 70% of the imports, but Pro Wildlife says most of these are then sent on to France, which directly imports 16.7%. The Netherlands takes in 6.4%.
The IUCN will publish a conservation status report for amphibians later this year, but Jennifer Luedtke, who manages the union’s red list assessments said that at least 1,200 amphibian species – 17% of the total – are traded on the international market.
“It causes drastic population declines in the countries where these frogs originate from, as well as the unintentional spreading of lethal pathogens to amphibians,” she said.
“A shift in public consciousness needs to take place in Europe [to realise] that the burden of these declines in amphibian populations is being placed on poorer countries because of demand in wealthier ones.”
Luedtke, who also coordinates the IUCN’s amphibian specialist group, said: “We need to talk about sustainable use and if that’s even possible.”
Indonesia provides an estimated 74% of frogs imported to the EU, followed by Vietnam with 21%, Turkey 4% and Albania 0.7%, the report says.
Over-exploitation in non-EU countries has led the IUCN to give vulnerable and near-threatened classifications to species such as the giant spiny frog in China and Cambodia’s Asian grass frog.
In Africa, fewer than 250 mature Togo slippery frogs are thought to survive, and the giant African bullfrog may already be extinct in Swaziland.
Pro Wildlife and Robin de Bois say that they want EU counties to restrict imports, ensure the traceability of frogs’ legs products, provide better information to consumers and develop listing proposals for endangered species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Altherr also called for an end to cruel practices such as the cutting of frogs legs with axes or scissors without anaesthetic.
EU insiders suggested it was unfortunate that the Pro Wildlife report had been published after a 17 June deadline for the submission of listing proposals to the next Cites conference of the parties, which will take place in Panama in November.
A European Commission official said: “The EU is ready to consider support for any listing proposals coming from [Cites] range states, for which there is scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a risk that international trade threatens the survival of the species.”