Perhaps you have never heard of the largest aquatic frog in the world. That might be because the Titicaca water frog lives in only one place in the world: Lake Titicaca, the highest freshwater lake on Earth.
Though it is incredibly rare, the Titicaca water frog is sadly very well known in international trade. So many are taken from the wild each year that the species is now in serious trouble. Because of the serious impacts of this illegal trade, both Bolivia and Peru have proposed listing the Titicaca water frog under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) at the upcoming Conference of the Parties.
A Frog with Gills
The Titicaca water frog is unique for many reasons. Being endemic to Lake Titicaca, it is only found in the two countries that the lake straddles: Bolivia and Peru. It’s enormous as frogs go; it can grow to be more than five inches long and weigh over two pounds. But most of all, its appearance is unforgettable. This frog has baggy skin folds that hang down from the sides of its face, body and legs. This strange appearance actually serves a very important purpose: It helps the frog breathe. Because the Titicaca water frog lives at such a high altitude (the lake sits at 12,500 feet above sea level!), oxygen can be harder to come by. With all those folds, the increased surface area of skin helps the frog to get enough oxygen. In fact, they’re so effective that the frog can actually breathe underwater!
Illegal and Unsustainable Trade
When the IUCN last assessed the Titicaca water frog population (12 years ago), the frog had already seen an 80% population decline, and was categorized as Critically Endangered. The frog is also protected under national law in both Bolivia and Peru, making any sale of this species (domestic or international) illegal. Unfortunately, harvest and trade of this species occurs in the thousands every year. People buy the Titicaca water frog for many purposes, including supposed medicinal powers, leather products, use as flour or creams, and human consumption (particularly made in to a juice). Wildlife traffickers also smuggle the frog into the United States to serve as an exotic delicacy.
The Next Steps – International Protection
Bolivia and Peru are calling on the international community to help them ban the commercial trade of the Titicaca water frog at the CITES meeting this fall. Though the trade is already illegal in these two countries, banning all international trade will make it much harder for the frog to be traded anywhere, and hopefully cut down on the demand for this species. As a species endemic to Latin America and illegally traded to the United States, our team at Defenders is deeply invested in seeing international protections put in place for the Titicaca water frog. With so much of its population already depleted, this frog needs all the help it can get.
Save Amphibians! (From Us)
The Titicaca Water Frog isn’t the only amphibian we’re going to bat for at the CITES meeting this fall. A number of other species are also at great risk thanks to the pressures of international trade.