The subject of frogs and their habitats is not a topic I am particularly interested in but all the same, a piece in the Sunday Times happened to catch my attention (“Who’s prepared to be a friend to frogs?” March 1).
It revolved round the research of young Cape Town ecologist Peta Brom, who apparently headed out into the suburbs around the University of Cape Town where she worked to find out how residents felt about amphibians that might be living in their gardens.
The most striking of her findings was about culture.
Two thirds of Xhosa speakers, for example, apparently disliked frogs compared with just 6% of English speakers. Some Xhosa speakers, she added, were so phobic they even refused to look at pictures on her frog flash cards. Some, she reported, held the belief that individual frogs found on their property out of the rainy season were sent by witchcraft as a curse.
“The remedy is to kill the frog, preferably by sprinkling salt on its back, then sweeping up the body.”
International research, Brom said, has shown that cities can be biodiversity hot spots and the role of residential gardens in saving frogs could be crucial.
That’s why she set out to understand people’s attitudes as a prelude to persuading householders to welcome the amphibians onto their property and to cultivate the dense undergrowth that frogs love.
How nice it is to see that someone is taking action to save our endangered frogs, of which there are about 160 species — 30% of which, alas, are threatened because of habitat destruction, increasing pollution in freshwater systems, disease and climate change.
The fact that one third of SA’s frogs could disappear is a warning sign that the country’s natural environs are in jeopardy and that urgent conservation action is crucial.
Did you know that a tunnel for toads has been completed under a motorway west of London and that the French are building a similar tunnel under a railway line between Paris and Bordeaux? This will have charmed all who are interested in the preservation of amphibians.
I do not know whether anything along these lines has been done in SA, but concern for wildlife has caused Eskom to space high-tension overhead wires further apart than necessary to minimise the risk of big birds being electrocuted if they perch on the wires.
This concern for the wellbeing of lesser creatures is of course one of the hallmarks of a civilised people. It can be said as a valid generalisation that the lower a human being is on the ladder of civilisation, the less he cares about the welfare of all animals except those which are of direct economic significance to him.
When people are educated up to a higher standard of comprehension and their minds are opened to a higher vision of life, then they become animated by a spirit of compassion for all living things, which is the essence of the truly civilised person.
So it can be suggested that people who build tunnels for toads are very high up the ladder of civilisation and that those who are neglectful of animals for which they have a responsibility are not as far up the ladder as they may appear to all outward appearances.