Missing the Frog Prince?

Finally, the rains arrived last Sunday, though these may be just the pre-monsoon showers. The child inside me couldn't resist the temptation and en route to a cyclists' meet in Parel, I indulged in my age-old practice of soaking in the early showers. Halfway to the venue, I observed some kids with paper boats wading through the streams and puddles.

I approached them and asked, "Did you see any frogs jumping around or hear them sing?" At that, the kids literally shrieked and jumped out of the water and onto the footpath. With great amount of disbelief, the eldest boy, who was around 12 years, asked me, "Are you joking and trying to scare us out of the water by asking about frogs?" My heart sank at the question and I almost had tears rolling down my wet cheeks, laughing hard, yet feeling sad at the same time.

These kids haven't as much as heard a frog sing (some tone deaf people describe frog singing as croaking) or seen it hop around. Don't these kids' parents miss the frog songs just as much as I do? I gave them more 'unbelievable' information that there are dozens of species of frogs and toads found in and around Mumbai, as we are located in the Western Ghats. To which the kids very smartly added, 'Yes we know, inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park, there are leopards and frogs'.

I assured them that frogs are one of the most harmless creatures and although highly carnivorous and even cannibalistic, they cause little to no harm to any human being. Frogs thrive on dangerous malaria and dengue-causing mosquitoes, both underwater and on land. To add to their amazement, I told them that frog calls cannot only be heard through the air, but also under water and through solid walls, roofs and across loud noises of waterfalls in forests.

The young one of a bullfrog
The young one of a bullfrog 

Only male frogs emit these calls from their vocal sacs to attract females and to threaten other males and keep out of their territory. They are abundantly found on branches, leaves, poles, near pools and sometimes even in deep streams, but never in sea water. They live only on land and in freshwater bodies, that too, in preferably equable climates.

The Indian Bullfrog is an important frog for the Mumbai, Thane and Konkan region and is increasingly becoming rare, due to its large size and use as food in the frog-leg industry, thriving in Thailand and the Far East. Our household phenyls, leaking petrol from vehicles, dumping of detergents, glass, plastics and other non-biodegradables in breeding habitats of frogs, lead to death of eggs and tadpoles.

The blotchy pattern helps these bulky frogs camouflage. Even today, one can spot them on the steps of old wells or on waterlogged soccer fields in large campuses such as Bhavan's and Ismail Yusuf colleges, IIT (Powai), St Dominic Savio High School (near Mahakali Caves), Race Course or the Oval Maidan, Ballaleshwar Talao (Panvel), Masunda (Talao Pali) and Upvan Lakes in Thane, too.

The monsoon songs of bullfrogs emitted from the lake's edge are not only soothing to the stressed nerves, but also a sign of safety from diseases. Paddy (rice) farmers cherish frogs a lot as they eat up crabs which feed on the tender shoots and roots of rice seedlings.

If you are fond of these bullfrogs, then this monsoon, organise local lake clean-up drives to remove the filth that clogs them. Some varieties of frogs can also thrive in a small terrarium created inside houses or in multi-storey buildings. However, I strongly suggest all kids and adults start desperately looking for the eggs, tadpoles, and adult frogs in our city, and introducing them in clean water pools, tanks, wells or lakes, as their absence can totally ruin the health of this city.

Remember, the story of the Frog Prince was told in childhood not to entertain or as a language exercise, but to emphasise the fact that these jumping, large-eyed, web-footed, neck-less weirdoes are extremely important for human survival and if nurtured they will truly protect us like the warrior princes in fairy tales.

Anand Pendharkar is an ecologist, who is the founder of SPROUTS, an outdoors and eco-tourism company and SPROUTS Environment Trust, an NGO which works with youth and underprivileged groups and aims to provide a sustainable environment for all

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