THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For the first time in Kerala, a frog has been declared the flagship species to ensure its conservation. Galaxy Frog (Melanobatrachus indicus), noted for its evolutionarily distinct nature and sports infinite vibrant spots that look like stars, has been declared the flagship species of Mathikettan Shola National Park in Idukki earlier this month. It is endemic to the Western Ghats.
“During a survey of reptiles and amphibians conducted in the forest in 2019 we rediscovered the frog here after over 15 years. When we declare an animal as a flagship species, then efforts are put in to ensure its conservation along with its habitat.As we protect this small species, we will be able to protect the ecosystem in Mathikettan as well.A good population of the frog has been spotted inside the forest and regular yearly surveys will be held to ascertain its population,” says R Lekshmi, wildlife warden, Munnar. A 10-year management plan which gives thrust for protecting the frog has been readied.So far the frog has been spotted in only three subpopulations namely Agasthyamalai,Periyar and Munnar (Mathikettan).The frog is an Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species and is listed as endangered in the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) Red List. The frog belongs to the family Microhylidae and sub-family Melanobatrachinae. The other three frogs in the sub-family dwell in Africa.
“Its habitat is fragmented and habitat destruction is one of the major threats the creature faces. It is seen only in isolated pockets. Its close relatives are in Africa,” says Rajkumar KP, a PhD scholar at Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) and a research fellow under EDGE.“Since it is an endemic species, if aggressive efforts aren’t taken to help preserve its habitat it could easily lead to its extinction. My study delves into developing a long-term plan to conserve the species. We are just learning about the habitat, its behaviour, breeding, and so on,” he says.
Unlike other frogs, the Galaxy Frog doesn’t have a vocal sac and hence it can’t be identified through its calls. The bright-coloured spots are being inferred to aid the frog in communication.
“It will be interesting tostudy the method of communication of the frog as its olfactory region isn’t developed and its calls aren’t audible to us,” says Rajkumar.The declaration of the frog as the flagship species has researchers on cloud nine.“This happened purely because of the support from the Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department.
The support of wildlife warden Lakshmi, Assistant Wildlife Warden MK Sameer and Wildlife Assistant Salish M has helped a lot,” says Rajkumar. Sandeep Das,another EDGE fellow and herpetologist says that this is an excellent example of garnering attention thereby ensuring better conservation for lesser-known animals.
Sandeep recalls how five years ago, when the then DFO Prasad and Range Officer Siby asked for suggestions on names of lesser-known animals to be given for wireless handsets,he suggested Melano, the short form of Melanobatrachus indicus, the scientific name of Galaxy Frog and the name is still being used. “I had never imagined that one day the frog itself will become a flagship species,” he says.
At the initial level, the training of the field staff of the forest department was completed and it will be extended to the indigenous communities in the forest.“The idea is to familiarise the frog to the forest staff and the local community whereby they are familiar with the importance of the species and thereby aid in the conservation of the frog and its habitat,” he says.