Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel
Frogs, newts and salamanders all have one very important thing in common: they’re amphibians, and that means they’re members of the most endangered group of animals in the world. Amphibians are indicator species, very sensitive to changes in the environment, and their status helps scientists see how an ecosystem is functioning.
Today one-third of all amphibian species are considered threatened or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the specific threats to this group of animals is as varied as the species themselves. It includes habitat loss, climate change, pollution, disease and more, but one thing making it all worse is the wildlife trade. Not only are frogs removed from the wild to be placed in the pet and food trades, but moving these species around the globe has contributed a great deal to the spread of diseases that affect amphibians, such as the chytrid fungus that has led to the decline in populations of countless species of frogs.
At every CITES conference, there are a number of side events — presentations to educate those attending the conference on a number of issues pertaining to wildlife and trade. Last week, we teamed up with ProWildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute to put on a presentation to highlight the impact of international trade in amphibians – a trade that amounts to millions of live frogs, newts and other amphibians traded every year for the pet and food market. The event focused a great deal on the increasing trade in live amphibians to the United States, as well as the increase in frozen frog legs to the European Union. Sandra Altherr from ProWildlife and I presented a report [PDF] that we authored together about impacts of the frog leg trade. Even in the U.S., more than half of the 25 million live frogs imported every year are part of this culinary practice.
The other two experts we invited spoke not only about the direct impacts of the international amphibian trade, but also its indirect effects. Jonathan Kolby from the James Cook University of Australia and Mark Auylia from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research spoke about the spread of amphibian diseases through the international wildlife trade and the Risk Assessment of Chytridiomycosis to European amphibian diversity, respectively. Many CITES delegates and other non-governmental organizations attended the event. We were able to distribute our report to the attendees and even handed out frog pens to give people a physical reminder that amphibians are at risk from international trade. We will continue to keep this crucial issue on the conference radar.
One of the proposals we helped work on this year was for the Machalilla’s frog (Epipedobates machalilla), and I’m happy to report that it passed! I worked very closely with officials from Ecuador to help this proposal be presented and adopted – I was even able to speak on the Conference floor in support of it. Ecuador presented the proposal to list the Machalilla’s frog in Appendix II, and the Committee adopted the proposal by consensus.