THEY are green, brown, mottled and some, the tiny ones found sometimes in the rain gauge on wet mornings, are even pinkish.
They used to be among the most common amphibians on Earth. Yet now their numbers are dwindling. In some parts of Queensland their population has tumbled by as much as 95 per cent. Several species are already believed to be extinct.
Nineteen years ago, when Deborah Pergolotti established the first frog hospital in Cairns, few people could have guessed the future of so many of these appealing little creatures would ever be in doubt.
“The dreadful 1994 fires in Sydney’s Royal National Park made me realise I wanted to help wildlife in a practical way,” Deborah said.
“I helped with frog rehabilitation and realised how fascinating these little creatures really are. That was the start.”
The frog hospital, which relocated recently from Cairns to Bingil Bay near Mission Beach in the rainforested wet tropics, is immaculate.
The small patients sleep, each in an individual tank, to the sound of waves washing on to the beach far below.
When The Senior visited, there were 30. They had come into the hospital from all over North Queensland, and some from even further away. Some were injured or had met with accidents; some were obviously sick. All were quiet.
It was a different matter at night, Deborah said with a laugh. That was when they really came alive.
The fact is, she said, no one has been able to work out exactly what was causing the frogs’ population fall, but it appeared there could be a mix of contributing factors.
Heavy metals and chemicals have been found in the bloodstream of frogs.
Frogs were being found with viral infections to which they were previously believed to be immune. Some had deformities.
Cancer attacks frogs as it does most living things, and frogs have been known to die when the weather is exceptionally hot.
The good news is that the contagious chytrid fungus, which occurs in frogs in many parts of the world, is now curable with treatment.
“Frogs are nocturnal and like to hide by day,” Deborah said. “If you see a frog sitting in the sun or in some exposed place where you would not expect it to be, it is likely it is sick even if it doesn’t look it.”
She added a warning not to pick up frogs with bare hands, but always to use rubber gloves or a plastic bag or, failing that, gathering the frog up gently with a soft cloth.
Deborah is adamant there is much that can be done to help these vulnerable and useful animals stay healthier.
“Basically, life has got harder for frogs in recent times, but there is still much we can do for them,” she said, adding that even after all her years of looking after them, being able to return a cured frog to the wild is always a magic moment.
“Frogs are so important to the natural system, but apart from that they are gorgeous little characters.
“At the moment, though, they need all the help they can get.”
FOOTNOTE: The Australian Museum is conducting a national survey to find out how Australia’s frog species are fairing. Anyone wishing to take part can download an app that will help identify frog calls, often the only way frogs can be located. Go to frogid.net.au to find out more.
Tips for keeping our little mates safe
- Don’t use chemicals around the house n Garden organically
- Keep soil alkaline
- Provide a pond or water source filled with rainwater or filtered water (chlorine is harmful to frogs)
- Plant lots of vegetation, including trees and shrubs if there is room
- Keep dogs and cats, real sources of danger to frogs, away from the wilder parts of the garden
- Worm cats with praziquantal, since they can pass on a dangerous form of worm to frogs.
Call the frog hospital on (07) 4088-6572 or visit frogsafe.org.au for more tips.