If it tastes good, why not eat it? This seems to be the question bouncing around the minds of those in search of wild frogs in Shanghai’s wet markets. Illicit sales of these controlled amphibians are quietly done under the veil of early dawn much to the delight of purchasers’ palates. The underground trade currently remains largely unhindered despite random raids by authorities conducted in an effort to establish the fairly fresh concept of wildlife protection.
Indulging in farmed bullfrogs has never been a major taboo – just ask the French. What worries wildlife conservationists are the adverse effects of eating wild frogs into extinction. With the elimination of their natural predators, invasive species of insects including mosquitoes exponentially multiply, which is what India experienced during the 1980s, to the detriment of their agriculture.
The risks and extra 6 yuan ($0.88) per half kilogram in the price of wild frogs over bullfrogs doesn’t deter customers from securing what they believe is the tastier option. The reality is that consumption of unregulated wild frogs can spread disease harmful to both humans and frogs alike. Contracting skin diseases from wild frogs is not unheard of, and, worst of all, mingling different species of wild frogs in tight spaces can spread chytrid fungus, which is poisonous to humans who eat frogs and can wipe out frog populations wholesale.
Nongovernmental organizations have had an impact in Guangdong Province, where traditional tastes and medicines often topple notions of conservation. Dining on endangered creatures has long been a problem in this region because few people have foresight. Common superstitions play a large role in associating nutritious value with wildlife, while others are only looking to tame their curiosity. Connoisseurs of rare animals such as pangolin, also known as the scaly anteater, have even admitted ordering the pricey meat to exhibit their wealth, according to a survey by the Guangdong Forestry Bureau.
However, the NGOs’ efforts are making an impact. Volunteers pay visits to these markets as secret shoppers to expose underground peddlers to the police. Green Eyes, a project started in 2000 by Fang Minghe, works with local governments as a whistle blower.
Many believe that snitching on wild frogs vendors won’t instantly make them disappear, and they’re right. Over the past year, wildlife awareness advertisements conducted by WildAid have been televised and put on billboards to highlight shark-fin soup. A survey conducted by the campaign in 2008 had some enlightening results – about 78 percent of Chinese people hadn’t known what was in shark-fin soup before seeing the commercials.
Educating people about the effects of having an exotic appetite is paramount to stopping illegal trade. Markets that resemble safaris are not an oasis of medical cures or even slightly sanitary solutions. They are havens for uncontrolled animals sold by merchants looking to move a product that is often kept in filthy conditions.
Let’s face it, sponsorship creates mass appeal. By appearing in anti-shark fin commercials, Jackie Chan’s endorsement has prompted discussion on the issue. Even if the shampoo he recently sponsored makes your hair fall out, his appearance could still do wonders in opening people’s eyes to why eating wild frogs is a jump in the wrong direction.