SA amphibian expert snaps up Green Oscar
It’s a giant leap for amphibian specialist Dr Jeanne Tarrant and a bigger one still for the protection of frogs and the wellbeing of South Africans.
SA’s “frog lady” has just been honoured with an international Whitley Award.
The “Green Oscar” as it is often referred to, goes with nearly R1m (R916,300,000 or £40,000) to be used in her Threatened Amphibian Programme, which she runs for the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
But if you think it’s just about frogs — don’t hop to conclusions, because frogs control pest insects and they are also key indicators of the health of habitats that counters climate change, supports farming and supplies clean water.
Tarrant said one of the prominent members of her programme was a resident of the Eastern Cape.
“The critically endangered Amathole toad is known only from the mountains near Hogsback.
“This species serves as a flagship for protecting many other species in the region, and it represents very important grassland habitat that is needed for carbon sequestration and supporting livestock, and because it is one of the most critical watersheds in the Eastern Cape.
“Without protecting this habitat, millions of people downstream, including in East London, will be faced with water scarcity and poor water quality.”
The Amathole toad faces various threats that cut across environmental and human needs, she said.
“The species has lost much of its grassland habitat to forestry and agriculture.
“My project aims to secure sites for the species and to have its habitat included in declared protected areas.
“We do this through landowner agreements that are collaborative in nature and which still allow the landscapes to be used productively.
“In fact, by protecting natural resources and allowing ecosystems to function the way they should, this ensures that these landscapes are more productive and healthy than they would be otherwise.
“We are working with farmers to declare the only protected areas for this species — to the benefit of not just the species, but people and food and water security too.”
In line with this policy work, supported by the Whitley Fund for Nature, Tarrant and her team are working to produce a 10-year conservation and research strategy for South African frogs and protect 20,000ha of amphibian habitat and eight species.
Tarrant said that besides their habitat indicator role, frogs were vital for the part they played in the ecosystem.
“Around the world and across South Africa flogs play the role of both predators — consuming huge numbers of insects, including pests that may otherwise impact crops, or cause malaria — and prey, where many other species, including in some cases humans, depend on them for food.
“If we knock them out of the food chain, the consequences will be serious.
“The fact that 41% of our amphibian species globally face extinction should be a huge wake up call that all is not as healthy as it should be with our planet.”
According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, almost two-thirds of SA’s 135 frog species are found nowhere else, making SA a priority for amphibian conservation.
“Despite this, a combination of threats from habitat loss due to mining, agriculture and pollution are putting the country’s frogs at risk.
“In some South African cultures, frogs can be associated with witchcraft, making them often feared by local communities.”
Tarrant’s work through the annual Leap Day for Frogs and Frogs in the Classroom projects was trying to dispel these myths and raise awareness and appreciation of the little amphibians, the organisation said.
Five other Whitley Award 2020 winners were named for their conservation of hirola antelope in Kenya, black lion tamarins in Brazil, alpine musk deer in Bhutan, chimpanzees in Nigeria and helmeted hornbills in Indonesia.