To answer this million-dollar question, Indian frog researchers are all set to start a field mission called ‘the lost amphibians of India’ that will be launched at an academic conference on Tuesday.
Researchers in this multi-institutional field biology trip would venture into deep forests and climb up the hills to look for some of the country’s “most wanted” amphibians.
The search will be exclusively for 47 lost amphibians—39 frogs and 8 tiny snake-like caecilians—who vanished from different Indian states in the last 175 years. Of this 47, as many as eight frog species were last seen in Karnataka.
The oldest in the list is a frog seen last in Bengal in 1834, while the youngest is a caecilian that was seen till 1992 in Kerala’s Chegalam village. Nobody knows whether they have really become extinct or they have migrated to a different location.
For some amphibians, either a dead sample or at least a sketch is available, but for five of them, nothing exists barring their descriptions in academic literature.
“Amphibians that successfully survived through millions of years are currently on a decline. The commonest reason for the declining rate, which is the highest for any animal group, is man-made changes to the natural world,” said S D Biju, a Delhi University professor who found many new frog and amphibians species from across the country in the last two decades.
Globally, one in three frog species faces extinction. This is a great conservation responsibility that has to be addressed effectively because amphibians are some of the first animal groups to be hit when ecological damage crosses a critical threshold. “Their decline is a silent but significant ecological alarm call,” he said.
What adds to the risk is the fact that many species are found in a single location, which may be the last habitat these species have. And if this, too, is lost, they will be pushed to extinction.
The scenario here is unique, as 60 per cent of Indian amphibians are not found in any other part of the world, and among them, over 50 are considered threatened. But similar to the rest of the world, India is on a fast lane of amphibian decline. The Western Ghats is one such vulnerable region.