Tens of millions of amphibians are sold worldwide annually, and there are a growing number of issues that amphibians face because of the pet trade. Most amphibians are taken out of the wild to be sold as pets; many unwanted pets die in captivity or are released intentionally into the wild; and this unregulated trade of amphibians is a known vector of the deadly chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) and other infectious diseases. The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and is highly unregulated. As such, few countries keep accurate records of what species are being imported and exported. Furthermore, most countries (including the United States and those of the European Union) have no laws against importing in chytrid-infected amphibians. Thus the pet trade is partially responsible for the widespread decline in amphibian populations.
Many amphibians are taken from their homes in the wild to be sold into the pet trade. Brightly colored frogs are highly desired by pet collectors. Most amphibians taken from the wild will travel thousands of miles in crowded, unsanitary conditions around the globe and usually end up in the USA, Europe, Japan, China, and Taiwan.
Several million wild-caught amphibians are legally imported into the USA each year; many others are harvested domestically for trade within the USA. Considering that there is also a large black market trade (the numbers of which are never reported) and that the USA accounts for only about 15% of the world's amphibian trade, it is likely that well over 100 million amphibians are removed from the wild each year. This level of harvest is without a doubt unsustainable, and is a large contributor to population declines in many regions.
It is important for consumers to know where the pet frogs being sold originate from. Most of these species come from rainforests in developing countries where few harvesting regulations exist, and few people have no alternative employment and thus collect frogs for exporters. In 2002 a scientific paper was published about the discovery of a brilliantly colored and rare newt from Laos. Once the paper was published, commercial dealers began collecting this newt for sale into the pet trade. The dealers actually used the geographic description in the paper as a "roadmap" to find the rare newt. This was quite unfortunate as the rarity of the newt increased the price. In Germany this newt was being sold for 250 dollars each. However, locals were being paid less than 20 cents to capture these newts. Such beautiful animals are the unfortunate victims of their own coloration and can be over-harvested to the point of extinction if no regulations are put in place.
Frog Art by Sujata Neogi - 15, India
As the trade of amphibians is highly unregulated, disease testing of amphibians traveling between countries and states is next to none. Many amphibians that travel often are carries of the chytrid fungus, which is greatly responsible for the amphibian declines around the world. Approximately 300 species have been detected with chytrid and it is now present in nearly 40 countries. In 2011, a study found that in many pet shops and pet expos nearly 3% of the captive amphibians tested positive for the presence of chytrid, and 13.6% of the collections yielded at least one positive result.
Humans ship millions of amphibians around the world each year. When an infected frog arrives in a new location, its disease can spread to native populations if (1) it escapes captivity, (2) it is intentionally set free, or (3) water from its holding tank is released into the environment. Native amphibian populations generally have no evolved defenses against the new pathogen, and an epidemic that results in population decline or extinction can occur. The largely unregulated pet and food trades are the two most common sources of disease introduction into naïve amphibian populations. For instance, the skin disease chytridiomycosis has been detected in Mexican axolotls in Australian pet shops, and in American bullfrogs being farmed for international trade in Uruguay. Infected frogs are also unintentionally exported internationally via the zoo trade and laboratory animal trade.
In 2003, Australia enacted what are perhaps the world's strictest regulations on the importation of non-native amphibians, this being due to chytridiomycosis having driven at least seven of Australia's frog species to complete extinction after it was introduced into the country in the late 1970's. Amphibian importation is now allowed only for zoological and laboratory usage, and must be accompanied by certificates demonstrating that stringent disease control measures (including quarantine) have taken place.
Japan banned both the sale and import of American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus) in 2006, and South Korea banned their importation circa 2007, both countries in part due to the consistently high chytrid infection levels found in this species, which sees heavy trade and transport.
The evidence that chytrid spreads via the pet trade is abundant and has been for over a decade:
Aplin, K., and P. Kirkpatrick. 1999. Progress report on investigations into chytrid fungal outbreak in Western Australia. Western Australia Museum, Perth.
They found infected pet shop Heleioporus eyrei, Litoria moorei and axolotyls.
Raverty, S., and T. Reynolds. 2001. Cutaneous chytridiomycosis in dwarf aquatic frogs (Hymnochirus boettgeri) originating from southeast Asia and in a western toad (Bufo boreas) from northeastern British Columbia. Canadian Veterinary Journal
Pasmans et al 2011 Amphibia-Reptilia (in press). Clinically healthy amphibians in captive collections and at pet fairs: a reservoir of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Nearly 3% of the captive amphibians tested positive for the presence of B. dendrobatidis, and 13.6% of the collections yielded at least one positive result.
The Treewalkers study found chytrid in the pet trade as well. 0.7% of millions of frogs is a lot of chytrid, and their study was biased toward the small sector of the pet industry that actually cares somewhat about chytrid. Most vendors do not care.
Goka et al. (2009) Molecular Ecology "Amphibian chytridiomycosis in Japan: distribution, haplotypes and possible route of entry into Japan" found chytrid in 78/282 live amphibians in Japanese petshops.
Frias-Alvarez et al. 2008 Ecohealth: "Chytridiomycosis Survey in Wild and Captive Mexican Amphibians" found chytrid in 77 of the 91 amphibians tested in a captive population in Mexico City.
Other excellent reading on the topic:
(1) SAVE THE FROGS! opposes the capture of wild amphibians for use as pets. It is unethical to remove amphibians from their homes. Instead of experiencing freedom -- our most fundamental right -- the frogs will experience crowded conditions and possibly even the diseases that thrive in such situations.
(2) SAVE THE FROGS! opposes the transportation and importation of non-native amphibians for use as pets. Those who desire to use frogs as pets should stick with native, captive-raised amphibians so as to reduce the spread on infectious diseases, which can drive amphibian species to complete extinction.
(3) SAVE THE FROGS! supports the regulation of amphibians with respect to disease-free certification systems such as that proposed by the USFWS as part of the Lacey Act.
Frog Art by Sophia Tan, Age 11
Amphibians are rapidly disappearing around the world. Help us make the pet trade as frog-friendly as possible by following these guidelines:
Don't buy it if you can't care for it!
Amphibians require specialized care and can die prematurely in captivity if their basic survival needs are not met. Can you recreate a rainforest in a 10 gallon aquarium?
Never buy wild-caught amphibians!
Millions of amphibians are removed from their homes in the wild every year for use in the pet trade. Do your research and ensure that you only purchase captive-bred amphibians. Not sure if the animal is captive-bred? Ask! If the pet store doesn't know or will not tell you, most likely it is wild-caught. Do not support businesses that sell wild-caught amphibians!
Help prevent the spread of infectious diseases!
Amphibians harbor many diseases. When sick frogs get shipped around the world, their diseases come with them and can enter native populations. Only buy amphibians that were captive-bred locally to ensure your frog did not bring an exotic infectious disease.
Never release your pet into the wild!
Many pet amphibians are non-native. If released into the wild they can become harmful invasive species. Find a reptile or amphibian rescue or a herpetological society that can give your pet a good home.
Keep Amphibians Wild and Free!
Amphibians are beautiful and amazing animals that are best enjoyed in their native habitats. So, appreciate them in the wild and if you still need one as a pet, please be responsible!
Amphibians are sensitive animals and require very specialized care. Millions of amphibians die every year due to poor husbandry practices. To make sure your pet lives a long and happy life, do your research by purchasing a book or by visiting a web page that describes amphibian husbandry. Once you have done the research to properly care for your amphibian, ask yourself if you can care for that amphibian for its entire life. Some species live over 20 years!
If you cannot care for your pet, never release them into the wild! Here is a list of resources that can help you be responsible and find a proper home for your pet:
Herpetological Societies & Rescues
Herpetological Societies are people who gather together in local communities to appreciate reptiles and amphibians. Members are usually a mix of people, ranging from keepers, scientists, and general reptile and amphibian enthusiasts. Because herpetoculturalism is a thriving industry around the world, one side effect has been the surplus of unwanted animals. In response to the growing numbers of abandoned reptiles and amphibians, most herpetological societies have an adoption system, where people can relinquish their pets and the society will seek out the best possible home for the any unwanted animals.
The best way to find your local herpetological society is to Google, "[your city] Herpetological Society". If you are having trouble finding a herpetological society in your area, try this link: http://www.anapsid.org/societies/
Contact a local science teacher about donating your frog to their classroom. These animals should become ambassadors for their species, and what better way to do so than to educate children. Encourage the teacher to make the donated amphibian an active part of their classroom. The students will learn all about amphibian ecology, natural history and conservation.
Believe it or not, contacting your local Zoo sometimes will allow you to find a home for your amphibian friend. If the zoo cannot help you, usually they can point you in the right direction of where to find a home for your amphibian.
A Note about Breeders, Dealers, and Scammers:
If you truly care about your pet, then avoid money transactions and screen potential adoptees carefully. There are many in this world who are profiting from buying and selling of amphibians, at the expense of the amphibians' well-being. Do not encourage this act.
If you would like to help us with our efforts to improve the amphibian pet trade, please contact us.
"We will promote SaveTheFrogs as much as possible and support your efforts wholeheartedly. Thanks for being proactive on such an important issue." -- Danny Mendez of Urban Jungles Radio
Here's an interesting article from Mongabay: "The dark side of new species discovery".
"We took-in three Pacific Tree Frogs that had found their way into a pump station my husband was working in this past winter. They had no food, and the pump station was scheduled to be torn down, so we looked after the frogs for the last four months. Last week we could hear the frogs at the pond croaking, so we knew it was time to let them go. She misses them greatly but knows they needed to be free to get out there and increase the frog population. Seeing the good things your group is accomplishing and knowing other people care about frogs and are making a difference is very encouraging. Good luck with your organization, and keep saving those frogs!"
--Val Prociuk, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
These articles report harmful Salmonella on pet frogs, which could harm children under the age of five.
These interviews feature discussions on issues surrounding the pet trade.
Kerry Kriger on Wild Time Radio with Thomas Janak 2011-03-26
Kerry Kriger on Urban Jungles Radio with Danny Mendez 2012-07-27
Michael Starkey on the LA Talk Radio's Hill & Dale Show 2012-07-25
I live inside a small glass cage,
With plastic limbs and leaves,
There is no sun, there is no rain,
There is no cooling breeze.
I'd love to go a-courting,
But there's no one here like me.
My life began in a breeder's tank,
Never seen a real tree,
Probably wouldn't recognize one,
If it fell on top of me.
I spend my hours motionless,
Wishing I was free.
When I came here from the pet store,
There was another in poor health,
But he passed away the second day,
On an overheated shelf.
The Big Hand took his body off,
And left me by myself.
Huge faces many times my size,
Peer into my prison flask,
How nice for them; they're entertained,
But I am fading fast.
I'm just some human's knick-knack,
Inside my cage of glass.
I could have lived in a forest,
And climbed the tallest tree.
I could have had a girlfriend,
And made other frogs like me.
I could have eaten tasty bugs,
But it was not meant to be.
And on the day I breathe my last,
Inside this glassy wall,
They'll take my body out of here,
To the bathroom down the hall.
The toilet lid's my funeral bier,
And I will float in state.
The Big Hand will pull the chain,
And flush me to my fate.
by Michael James Faulkner
Submitted to the 2011 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest
You say I cannot stay
Here, in the place I've always know.
I must live inside a barrier
Surrounded by grass that does not grow.
You say I cannot have
These trees I've always climbed.
You need them for groceries
And latte holders, and books to bind.
You convince me that I'm happy
When you look upon me here.
Your human face pressed to the glass.
The face I remember with fear.
You were the one who moved me
And my family; separated us.
From webbed frog feet on bark tracks
And salamander trails, wondrous.
You were the one who took me
In a box that smelled of plastic,
From my habitat and homeland
To a coffee cup in your attic.
-- by Alyssa Nedbal
Submitted to the 2011 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest
In this cage is where I roam
Whether it's plastic
It's still my home
People take me in as an average pet
Or feed me candy for a funny bet.
Where I came from there were more like me
I had a love, a happy family.
Now I'm here staring at you
My cage hidden by clothes in your filthy room.
Someone come save me
Take me home
Some happy place
Where I'm never alone.
-- by Autumn Bloomer, 16
Submitted to the 2011 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest
Thoughts from SAVE THE FROGS! Founder Dr. Kerry Kriger:
"I do not support the purchase, sale, or holding in captivity of any frogs. I believe that even aside from potential ecological consequences (depletion of wild populations, spread of diseases via long-distance transport), all sentient beings have a right to live in freedom. I have never kept a frog as a pet; my passion for frogs comes from spending time with frogs in their wild habitats."
"The universal law of entropy (that disorder is always increasing) implies that some pets will always inevitably escape. Knowing that, we must decide if the potential problems caused by invasive species (disease spread, comptetion with natives, predation on natives, ecosystem decay, economic consequences) warrant the enjoyment gained by the few pet owners, when the price of invasive species is paid by us all. Pet frogs are hobbies; healthy ecosystems are necessities."
"Hi, My daughter has tree frog and I feel so sorry for it in its glass cage. She has agreed to let me try and find another place for it more true to its natural environment, though it is captive bred. Do you know of any big frog estuary type places? Like a local frog display/demo for school kids? Lumpy would be much happier in a space he/she can actually jump around in and be with other frogs. Let me know if you know of anything." - Alie
A letter to all salamander enthusiasts. By Max Sparreboom
Please watch the Tim Burton / Marky Mark version of Planet Of The Apes, which deals extensively with the morally corrupt way humans tend to treat non-human animals.
The SAVE THE FROGS! campaign to end the trade in wild-caught amphibians for use as pets has begun. You can help by NEVER purchasing an amphibian unless and until you are 100% certain it was NOT wild-caught. Until you have been shown otherwise, you should assume any amphibian in a pet store was caught in the wild. These animals are stolen from their home against their will, and their ability to return home severed. Don't be an unwitting participant in this deplorable trade.