When I had the tender age of 20 I monitored a beautiful pond in the North East of the Netherlands that was a breeding water for common toads (Bufo bufo), common frogs (Rana temporaria), pool frogs (Pelophylax lessonae) and common newts (Lissotriton vulgaris). In early spring this pond was buzzing of activity with all these breeding amphibians. For a herper like me this was the best time of year! Unfortunately not everyone shared this opinion. One day I headed to the pond only to find lots of (mainly) adult toads dead beside the pond. I was baffled. They were not predated, poisoned or anything else like that as far I could assess. How was this possible? I rounded up the victims and made notes of them and reported them to the Dutch reptile, amphibian and fish research and conservation society (RAVON). Later that day I visited the pond again and caught the culprits red handed! A group of 15-18 year old teenagers were scooping the toads out of the pond and tossed them high in the air. Most were dead on impact but some were still alive but severely injured. The group of teenagers send their dogs on the surviving individuals who quickly finished the toads of. I could not believe what I was seeing. Acts of animal cruelty of this severity I had not yet seen with my own eyes in a supposedly civilized country like the Netherlands! Outnumbered and steaming I confronted this group of people and made them aware that these were protected animals that deserved their respect, love and care. But alas, they did not respond to my outrage and kept on going. Disappointed I called the local authorities but when they arrived the culprits were long gone. After this incident the killings stopped and I did not see this group of toad killers again. All seemed well again and breeding activity resumed.

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Several days later I visited the pond again to check on the animals and possible further killings. I found two girls that were about eight years of age collecting some spawn of common frogs. Then I made one of the most misguided mistakes as a conservationist to date: I send these two poor, well meaning girls away. My overzealous protection efforts led me to believe, at that moment at least, that I had to protect this pond against everyone. That same evening I already regretted my action. How did I come to love these creatures… exactly, by doing the same as these two young girls. Catching newts and frogs, observing them, catching tadpoles and watching them go through the stages of metamorphosis and so on! I had robbed these kids from experiencing the same! The species in that particular pond are very common and widespread in my country. The matter would have been very different if it were very rare species of course. Still, to this date I regret this action.

In a country like mine there are many rules and regulations on these matters. This is a good thing but children still should be allowed and encouraged to experience nature and yes, also amphibians, for themselves (or under adult supervision). How can we expect the next generation to love, protect and care for these creatures and their habitat if we do not allow them to enjoy them?

Nowadays I actively encourage young and old to experience amphibians in all their diversity and more importantly: in their own backyard! With our urban amphibian connectivity project in the north of the Netherlands (Leeuwarden) we have lots of educational plans in store in 2014 for children (and their parents) of all ages! We plan to create several days that the children can tag along with their parents transferring toads, frogs and newts from one side of the road to the other. A great opportunity to touch, feel and experience these wonderful  creatures! We also plan to give a lecture and excursion for older children (12-16 years) at a nearby high school. Hopefully the interest and love for amphibians will be sparked or rekindled by our efforts in these teenagers. Three other lectures for all people in the neighborhood and at our university are in the making and we hope to create even more awareness for amphibians our neighborhood!

Now on to 2014 – year of the salamander!

By: Tariq Stark