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Clarence Landcare have received an alarming number of reports regarding sick, emaciated and deceased frogs which are being affected by a currently unknown source of infection. Image: Contributed.

Frog mortality an environmental pandemic

Emma Pritchard|

While it isn’t Covid-19, a mass mortality event impacting frogs throughout the eastern states of Australia is alarming several wildlife and conservation groups, including Clarence Landcare.

Throughout the past several weeks, residents from Yamba to Grafton have been discovering, and subsequently reporting, an increasing number of sick, emaciated and deceased frogs.

Displaying a variety of symptoms including lethargic behaviour, skin discolouration, red bellies and feet and in some instances peeling skin, affected frogs have been found throughout different environmental locations within the Clarence Valley, including along the coastal fringe and in remote bushland areas.  

Clarence Landcare Educational Officer Kelly McRae said while the cause of the high mortality rates currently remains unknown, it is extremely concerning.

“Frogs are an integral part of the ecosystem, and if there is something wrong with our frog population, that is generally an indication that something is not right within our environment,” she said.

“It’s especially concerning because we are also receiving reports of cane toads being affected by this outbreak.

“This is absolutely something we need to take seriously.”

While amphibians are susceptible to a variety of environmental toxins, viruses and fungal infections including the chytrid fungus which is a possible cause of the current outbreak, there are fears the mass mortality could be caused by a new pathogen.

Recently, Clarence Landcare invited residents to attend a webinar with biologist and conservationist Dr Jodi Rowley and the Chief Scientist and Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute, Professor Kris Helgen to raise awareness of the mass mortality and educate the Clarence Valley community on ways to help save the local frog population.

“When a lot of frogs are dying, it creates a scientific mystery and we need to solve that,” Professor Helgen said during the webinar.

Describing frogs as a huge part of Australia’s unique diversity, Dr Rowley revealed there are currently 243 native species in the country, with new species still being discovered.

36 are currently threatened with extinction and 15 are considered critically endangered.

A small number of them reside in the Clarence Valley.

While investigations into the cause of the outbreak continue, Dr Rowley said it is critical the community becomes involved to help protect the local frog population.

Her appeals are echoed by Ms McRae who is asking residents to remain vigilant and monitor frog activity.

Any resident who sees a sick frog is encouraged to take it to Riverbank Animal Hospital in South Grafton and the Maclean Veterinary Clinic.

Residents who find deceased frogs are being asked to freeze the specimen in a clean bag, record the date and where the body was found, and contact the Australian Museum Frog ID team at  [email protected]

“We desperately need to know what is affecting our frogs so we can take the appropriate measure to reduce the impact,” Ms McRae said.

 

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