It's a golden time for frogs

Nov 03, 2014, 08:51 IST | Dhara Vora

A team led by amphibian researcher SD Biju, discovered seven species of Golden-backed Frogs, where one was named after city-based wildlife photographer/pathologist Dr Caesar Sengupta. Biju, also called the Frog Man of India, tells Dhara Vora why frogs are crucial to our eco-system and why their habitats must be saved

Q. What got you interested in the study of frogs?
A. I like wildlife; I spent my childhood in the wilderness and nature in my remote village in Kerala. After my first PhD in plant taxonomy, I worked at the Amphibian Evolution Lab, Brussels for a second PhD on Indian frogs. There are several reasons that got me interested in frogs. Apart from frogs being very cool, the most important reason is that amphibians indicate to a distinctive bio-geography as they cannot cross oceans, from continent to continent. They work as good subjects for the study of land they live around and its life forms. It is sad that they aren’t documented enough.

Hylarana caesari or the Maharashtra Golden-backed Frog, named after Dr Caesar Sengupta. pic courtesy/SD Biju

Q. What makes the Western Ghats unique?
A. The Western Ghats are one of the most primitive places on earth. This isolated region of mountainous ranges starts in Gujarat and continues till the tip of India. Though the landmasses of India and Sri Lanka were connected years ago, the frogs we discovered in these two regions are endemic to their own regions and do not have commonly shared species.

CROAK CHRONICLES SD Biju poses with the Maharashtra Golden-backed Frog in Koyna
Croak chronicles SD Biju poses with the Maharashtra Golden-backed Frog in Koyna

Q. Despite covering such a huge area, how did you conduct your research in the Western Ghats?
A. These research findings have been a result of my work for the last 24 years. I travel all the time, for at least four to five months a year.


Q. What role do frogs play in our eco system?
A. Every creature is important to the system. I always ask, what is the use of Homo Sapiens? Frogs are very important environmental barometers. Due to the way in which they are formed, even the slightest change in any habitat can be observed in frogs. Given the disappearance of frogs in various areas, it indicates the degradation of the habitats. Each time I visit the Western Ghats, I can see the degradation of the quality of the habitats — its water bodies are different, streams vanish. Frogs are excellent specimens for scientific research. There are various chemicals that have been developed by understanding the natural chemical make-up of frogs. One example is the alternative to morphine, which is not addictive and can be used for saving lives.

Q. What role does Maharashtra play in the world of frogs?
A. There are various regions in Maharashtra such as Amboli and Koyna that are host to endemic species of frogs.
These frogs aren’t found beyond their habitat, and hence Maharashtra is a very important and unique geographical aspect for amphibian study.

Q. How did you get acquainted with Dr Caesar Sengupta?
A. There are various people who mail me, and wish to support and be a part of the researches. Sengupta too had gotten in touch with me, and we have known each other for six to seven years. He expressed his desire to support our initiative, Lost Amphibians of India. Our first expedition together was to Assam. It was due to his dedication and efforts towards the conservation of amphibians that we decided to name the Maharashtra Golden-backed Frog as Hylarana caesari.

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About Hylarana caesari

The Hylarana caesari species is endemic to Maharashtra, in the northern Western Ghats, and were seen in two districts — Satara (Koyna and Mahabaleshwar) and Sindhudurg (Amboli). This species is likely to be more widespread in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. The team observed caesari only at Humbarli in Koyna, and Amboli, where individuals were found on rock surfaces emerging from fast-flowing streams, in secondary forests.

The man and the frog
Dr Caesar Sengupta is a pathologist by profession and a wildlife conservation photographer. The 40-year-old is the founder of DCP Expeditions, a wildlife photography training academy that nurtures several wildlife enthusiasts with their walks and travels throughout the year. “I am neither a biologist nor a scientist, and to have a species named after me is a lifetime achievement as I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own. In the last 180 years, over 50 species of frogs have vanished from India. What got me interested in the Lost Amphibians of India initiative is that they believe that these species aren’t extinct but are just lost and need to be found, and protected.

Dr Caesar Sengupta
Dr Caesar Sengupta

When people visit national parks, they prefer to photograph tigers and elephants. But there are several tiny creatures that also need awareness. I feel photography is a great medium to promote this cause as  when a photographer captures any such beautiful tiny creature and uploads it on social media, someone not interested in it will also be awed by the photograph, and become aware of the species. I am noticing a positive impact thanks to the Internet, where photographers have been generating keen interest,” he summarises.

A few other interesting frogs of Maharashtra

(Left) The Xanthophryne tigerina or Amboli Tiger Toad and (right) the Micrixalus uttaraghati or Maharashtra Dancing Frog are other endemic species of frogs in Maharashtra. The endemic Dancing Frog was a new species discovered by Biju this year. pics courtesy/SD Biju

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