By Wildlife Trust India
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Amphibians are the group with the highest proportion of threatened species. In India, a tree frog Rhacophorus pseudomalabaricus, commonly known as the Anaimalai Flying Frog or False Malabar Gliding Frog, which is Critically Endangered and endemic to a restricted range in Western Ghats, is hanging on to its very survival.

A baseline survey conducted in July recorded them breeding in an artificial water tank (used for irrigation purpose) inside a cardamom plantation. The plantation management practices employed around the tank, such as cleaning of dry/dead cardamom leaves, deweeding, clearing of water found to be negatively impacting the species breeding cycle. Known to have strong site fidelity, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), along with local partners, reached out to the management and initiated a consultative dialog and conservation action to restore the breeding pool. After zero disturbance measures taken around the water tank, on a monitoring visit was made by WTI and forest authorities, the team sighted three new nests of R. pseudomalabaricus. Looking at the success, the team decided to create additional suitable breeding grounds, where they identified two new sites inside the plantation complex. Braving the monsoons, the team managed to dig and construct a 10 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep waterhole lined with jute sacks and tarpaulin to hold water through the dry period. Plants like wild turmeric and cardamom, preferred by the species were planted around the waterhole, creating a natural setting for the frogs.

By November 2020, the team was successful in finding R. pseudomalabaricus and ten other species of anurans along with odonates and reptiles inhabiting the new waterhole. The following month, another monitoring visit was made by the team, where they observed Anamalai Flying Frog and other species like Nyctibatrachus poocha (Meowing Night Frog), Indirana sp. (Indian frog) and Indosylvirana sp. (Golden-backed Frog) resting around the waterhole. Based on the team’s suggestions, an inlet and outlet from the waterhole to a nearby stream in the plantation was paved for intrinsic aeration during the dry spell. The team also began work on the second waterhole (8ft length & width and 2.5 ft depth) few meters away from the first. To ensure a moist setting in the surrounding, a drip irrigation system was set up. The team is currently planting some vegetation around the pond where several frogs were found taking shelter under the leaf litter. We hope to see more R. pseudomalabaricus inhabit the area in the coming months.

Collaterals are also being developed in local language, to sensitize the plantation management on the use of organic fertilizer and, motivating them in becoming a “frog friendly” establishment. WTI has also initiated discussions with amphibian experts and IUCN SSC Amphibian specialist group in developing a robust conservation plan for R. pseudomalabaricus and other targeted threatened frog species in the Western Ghats.

Recovery of threatened species is one of the priorities of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI)– an organization with a mission to conserve wildlife and its habitat in partnership with communities and governments.