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Inside the race to save the world's largest frog

June 27, 2023
tags:#Cameroon, #conservation, #Goliath frog, #ecotourism, #endangered species
by:Shuimo Trust
The creation of Cameroon's first-ever sanctuary for the conservation of amphibians, reptiles and birds brings renewed hope for critically endangered species in the area. But some locals are wary of the implications.

When he came across the Goliath frog - the world's largest frog species - for the first time in 2014, Ndimuh B. Shancho felt both excited and dismayed; excited because it was his first time seeing a frog as mighty as the Goliath, and dismayed because the frog was already dead.

The frog did not die a natural death - it was hunted and hung by the roadside from a rope tied to its lower abdomen with blood-oozing from its head, facing the ground. Its hunter stood by, waiting for potential buyers. 

"The frog was the last of many that were up for sale that day," Shancho, a National Geographic explorer and executive director of a conservation NGO called Voice of Nature (VoNat), told FairPlanet. "I was even lucky to see it, because they usually buy them almost in real-time."

The Goliath frog is considered a delicacy in some communities in southwestern Cameroon, and has been widely hunted due to its high demand.

"At the peak hunting season, which falls between November and April, at least 20,000 Goliath frogs are hunted," said Shancho. The frog is classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which stated that it could soon be extinct if the current levels of harvesting continue.

The Goliath frog weighs about 3kg and measures 33cm in length, excluding its legs. It sells for between $3 to $9, and in rare cases for $15. 

Renewed hope for Goliath frogs and other species

Mount Muanenguba in Cameroon is the primary habitat of the Goliath frog, which can only be found in the tropical rainforest of northern Equatorial Guinea due to continuous human activities on the mountain that have jeopardised its future.

Despite various conservation efforts, the habitat of the giant frog has not received much attention from the government and other conservation actors, as it was not yet protected, hindering the effectiveness of these efforts. But the creation of the Muanenguba Herpeto-ornithological Sanctuary, brought new hope for the survival prospects of the Goliath and other species of plants and animals endemic to the mountain.

This sanctuary is the first ever protected area in Cameroon created specifically to conserve amphibians, reptiles and birds.

"I was so overwhelmed when I received the news of the creation of this sanctuary," said Tansi Godwill, who has been working with local communities to conserve Pangolins, as well as other species, on Mount Muanenguba.

According to Shancho, the creation of this sanctuary constitutes a significant victory for Cameroon's conservation movement.

"It was a timely decision by the government and it signals hope for the Goliath frog and other species on Mount Muanenguba," he said. As a National Geographic explorer, Shancho is currently engaging over 70 community kids in studying the ecology of the Goliath frog and other amphibians on this mountain. 

It has been reported that the Goliath frog has been trafficked over the years to Nigeria, much like pangolins. But Sancho, as do most conservationists in the area, believes the poaching spree on Mount Muanenguba will gradually subside thanks to the establishment of the sanctuary.

"The state will eventually send eco-guards to this sanctuary to fight against poaching," he said. "This will not only benefit the Goliath frog that has been widely hunted, but also other species of amphibians, reptiles and birds that [live] on this mountain." 

For Godwill, the creation of the Mount Muanenguba Herpeto-ornithological Sanctuary marks the beginning of a broader conservation boom in the region. "It will attract more conservation organisations to contribute to the conservation of the rich biodiversity of this mountain," he told FairPlanet. "Historically, this mountain has been neglected by conservationists in spite of its biodiversity richness."

He added, "We have rescued pangolins poached from this mountain, but I believe that rescue operations will be more effective given that state rangers will now patrol the mountain."

An unknown fate of local residents

While the majority of local communities surrounding Mount Muaneguba express satisfaction with the establishment of this sanctuary, there are concerns among those who rely on it for their livelihoods. These individuals worry that the creation of the sanctuary may imply a loss of access to the mountain in the future.

"We have been hunting on this mountain since we were born. I hunt the Goliath frog and other animal species on this mountain, which [allows] me to provide for my family," a hunter in Mangamba village who opted for anonymity told FairPlanet. He added that he will only stop hunting if he is given a different opportunity to make a living. 

Tim Killian, who has been involved in conserving the biodiversity of the newly created protected area for over 4 years, insists that the conservation of this landscape will only be successful if local populations are made part of the process.

"The local population needs to be involved in the management of this sanctuary to avoid confrontation," Killian said.

Godwill echoed similar sentiments. "Communities around Mount Muanenguba need to be sensitised on the recent development, and the sensitisation, just like [any] conservation activities, must factor in their interests," he said. 

Sonne Isaac, 35, an inhabitant of Njombe Penja, one of the communities around the newly protected area, expects to see locals employed as tour guides, eco-guards and citizen scientists. "We will support conservation in this sanctuary especially if we are made part of it. Most of us depend on the mountain for survival."

Isaac has been helping researchers to collect vital data on the ecology of the Goliath frog for several years.

Conservation value 

The conservation of Mount Muanenguba's biodiversity holds immense importance, not only for preserving the ecological equilibrium but also as a valuable source of revenue for local communities through ecotourism. "If you want to see the world’s largest frog, you can only visit this landscape or Equatorial Guinea," said Sancho. 

On the ecological front, the presence of Goliath frog tadpoles, along with other frog species found on this mountain, plays a crucial role in maintaining the area's water sources. By feeding on algae, these tadpoles help preserve the water's cleanliness.

"Goliath frogs feed on insects, including mosquitos, which helps to limit the spread of diseases such as malaria," said Killian.

According to a 2022 research published in the Journal of Biodiversity and Environmental Sciences, adult Goliath frogs feed mostly on macro invertebrates, including insects that damage crops.  

Sancho further emphasised the cultural significance associated with the Goliath frog, stating that local communities around Mount Muanenguba hold a belief that consuming it can contribute to a safe delivery for pregnant women.

Mount Muanenguba is also home to roughly 270 bird species that are critical to seed dispersal and pollination, both of which are crucial for maintaining the mountain's tree cover and supporting farmers. 

Pangolins, much like the goliath frogs, play a crucial role in preserving the ecological balance of Mount Muanenguba. These remarkable creatures actively feed on termites, which have the potential to cause significant damage to the forested areas of the mountain.

Cameroonian legislation mandates that 33 percent of the country's territory be classified as protected areas. This decision is partly informed by the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Cameroon is a signatory. As of now, over 22 percent of Cameroon’s territory is classified as protected areas. 

Image by Ryan Somma

Article written by:
Shuimo Trust
The creation of this sanctuary signals renewed hope for species that call this mountain home.
© Peter Linehan
The creation of this sanctuary signals renewed hope for species that call this mountain home.
Sancho and his team on a data collection expedition.
© VoNat
Sancho and his team on a data collection expedition.