Amphibians like the Critically Endangered Toad-skinned Frog Indirana phrynoderma could be killed when encountered at cardamom plantations.

While undertaking social surveys in the Western Ghats of India, local communities stated that frogs encountered at cardamom plantations were killed, as they were known to eat ripe cardamom. Usually larger-sized frogs, those resembling the Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Indirana sp., Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus and R. malabaricus were killed towards this. These frogs were locally known as “chori tavala” (frog with warts) and “pacha tavala” (green-colored frog). Individuals from local communities or those already working in the plantations were hired to capture and kill these frogs for a payment of INR 15 – 50 per frog.

 During a formal questionnaire survey undertaken at Munnar, Valparai and Topslip in the Anamalai Hills of the southern Western Ghats to understand the perceptions of local communities towards amphibians, eight individuals out of 99 interviewed, stated that R.malabaricus/R. pseudomalabaricus and frogs resembling Indirana sp/toads ate cardamom.  Of 26 respondents in Munnar, nearly 10 also stated that they mostly encountered the green gliding frogs in cardamom plantations (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Habitats associated to Gliding Frogs Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus/R. malabaricus by local communities in Munnar, Western Ghats, India.

Figure 1. Habitats associated to Gliding Frogs Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus/R. malabaricus by local communities in Munnar, Western Ghats, India.

During a follow-up informal interview survey, respondents stated that that the frogs came to eat cardamom only when they were ripe, which coincided with the monsoon season in Kerala. A respondent stated that these frogs would stretch their tongue, plucking the ripe cardamom in the process. They stated that cardamom seeds were seen in the frog’s belly. However, another respondent stated that frogs did not eat cardamom but merely sucked on the fruits’ membranous aril. “Chera Pambu” (Rat snake) at these plantations were not killed as they were known to feed on the cardamom feeding frogs.

The only published record of the perception that frogs ate cardamom is an account from the Notes on Cardamom Cultivation authored by T.C. Owen in 1883 which states that cardamom was collected before they were fully ripe to “partly save the fruit from being eaten by snakes, frogs and squirrels”. Though there is no proof as to whether frogs in actuality eat cardamom, this issue raises concern towards the killing of endemic and Critically-Endangered frogs like the Anamalai Gliding Frog R. pseudomalabaricus and the Toad-skinned Frog I. phrynoderma (Image 1) along with common ones found in this region.

This study is financially supported by the ZSL EDGE Fellowship to Arun Kangavel under the project “Enhancing the knowledge and awareness for the conservation of the Toad-skinned Frog (Indirana phrynoderma) at Anamalai Tiger Reserve.”

By Arun Kanagavel & Sethu Parvathy, Conservation Research Group (Kochi)