Endangered frogs face enough dangers in the wild. We need to better protect them from humans


Coming into showbiz, Kermit the Frog didn’t want to hurt real frogs.

It is among the blamed factors for the endangerment of glass frogs, a family of tropical frogs called Centrolenidae. Most are thumbnail-sized, and some have transparent skin, allowing their internal organs to be seen. There are 158 known species, two recent discoveries. We will undoubtedly find others. They only occur in Central and South America. Being tiny, nocturnal, and arboreal, it may be impossible to determine the number of populations. Some are only identified by minor anatomical differences or DNA analysis.

As these frogs face various threats, help can come to Panama starting November 14, when the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Glass frogs are in high demand by the exotic pet trade; these are transparent mini frogs, some with weird eyes, famously fashionable because they remind people of Kermit. CITES regulates the international trade in wildlife.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers more than half of the known species of glass frogs to be threatened with extinction. Habitat destruction and the effects of climate change are taking their toll. Since the 1950s, the chytrid fungus, a pathogen that kills amphibians around the world, has been responsible for the near or total extinction of more than 200 species of amphibians. It cannot be eradicated and was known to destroy an entire population of a species of glass frog that was common in Peru’s Manú National Park and surrounding Cusco region, where it has not been found since 2005.

Complex life cycles hinder the reproduction of glass frogs in captivity. There is legal international trade in common species, but numerous examples of poaching and international smuggling are documented by countries seeking Appendix II listing. An online vendor claims that “glass frogs have long been a ‘holy grail’ species of frog for many hobbyists” because they “take incredible captives”. Europe, the United States and Canada are considered major importers, but without Annex II documentation, markets and trade routes are poorly documented.

CITES has an Appendix I that prohibits all international trade in any listed animal or plant species, including “parts and derivatives” if it is for “primarily commercial purposes”. It can only be applied at the level of individual species. An Appendix II listing can include a whole family of species and does not prohibit trade but regulates it. Opponents say a “further assessment” is needed because not all species meet the criteria for listing in Appendix II. Conservationists counter that Appendix II contains a “look-alike” provision whereby species common enough to be traded may still qualify for Appendix II if they are difficult to distinguish from fully protected species.

Customs officers cannot be expected to identify all glass frog species when even professional herpetologists may struggle to do so. Strengthening the protections would help the frogs get a favorable outcome.

Barry Kent MacKay is an artist-naturalist and administrator of Animal Alliance of Canada, Zoocheck and Species Survival Network.


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