- QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters)
- Before the arrival of Spanish colonizers some 500 years ago, Indians
in what is now Ecuador dipped their arrowheads in venom extracted from
the phantasmal poison frog to doom their victims to convulsive death, scientists
- More recently, epibatidine -- the chemical which paralyzed
and killed the Indians' enemies -- has been isolated to produce a pain
killer 200 times more powerful than morphine, but without that drug's addictive
and toxic side effects.
- Pharmaceutical companies have not yet brought epibatidine
to market but hope to discover other chemicals with powerful properties
in frogs, which are a traditional source of medicine and food for many
of Ecuador's Indians.
- They may want to hurry because the treasure trove of
the world's frogs and toads is disappearing at a catastrophic rate. And
it's not just potential medicines which could be vanishing but creatures
- "Frogs and toads are becoming extinct all over the
world. It's the same magnitude event as the extinction of the dinosaurs,"
said Luis Coloma, a herpetologist, or scientist dedicated to studying reptiles
and amphibians, in Ecuador -- the country with the third-greatest diversity
- The thumb-sized jungle-dwelling phantasmal poison frog
is an example of amphibian good looks, despite its macabre associations.
It is bright red with fluorescent green stripes.
- At least two out of five of the 3,046 amphibian types
in the Americas -- home to 53 percent of known species -- are threatened
with extinction, according to a recent report titled "Disappearing
Jewels" by lobby group NatureServe.
- Nine amphibians, including eight frogs and a salamander,
have become extinct in the Americas in the last 100 years, including five
since 1980, according to the report. Scientists have also been unable to
find representatives of another 117 species, which are also possibly extinct.
- VARIOUS CAUSES
- Toads and frogs are dying out under pressure from the
expansion of agriculture, forestry, pollution, disease and climate change,
- "Amphibians are disappearing before our eyes,"
the report said.
- Scientists fear they could be indicator species -- a
sign of possible future damage to other parts of the ecosystem because
frogs and toads are especially vulnerable and thus are the first to disappear.
- "Disappearing amphibians break links in the food
chain, with often unpredictable effects on other organisms," the report
- Governments should strengthen controls at existing nature
reserves and encourage the breeding of endangered species in captivity
if they are to save frogs, NatureServe says.
- They should also foster research on the recently discovered
chytrid fungal disease, which is killing frogs, and educate the public
about the plight of amphibians, it said.
- "We have to change the idea that they are ugly and
slimy. They are beautiful, diverse species, just like hummingbirds or butterflies,"
said Martin Bustamante, herpetologist at Ecuador's Catholic University.
- The Catholic University possesses one of the largest
collections of captive live frogs in the Americas, and, to boost public
awareness of frogs and toads and their tribulations, it recently staged
an exhibition of some of its charges in the capital Quito.
- The jungles and mountains of Ecuador are home to 417
species of frogs and toads, of which more than a third are classed as vulnerable
or in critical danger of extinction. In the Americas, only Colombia and
Mexico are home to more endangered amphibians, according to NatureServe.
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