Latin America covers only 16 percent of the globe, yet it is home to 40 percent of the world’s biodiversity. In the most bio-diverse region in the world, existing species face several threats including illegal harvest, use, and trade to meet existing national and international demand, making it a prime target for illegal wildlife trafficking.
Glass frogs, or “ranas de cristal,” fall among the taxa whose international trade could significantly threaten their survival in the wild.
These species must already contend with challenges such as habitat degradation and destruction (in particular as a result of the expansion of commercial agriculture across Central and South America), and the risk of chytridiomycosis — an infectious disease caused by the chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans, that has been linked to dramatic population declines of amphibian species.
In addition, the wild populations of several species have naturally restricted ranges, with the highest levels of locally occurring species found in Colombia (21 species), followed by Venezuela (16 species), and Peru (11 species).
Relying exclusively on permanent bodies of running water such as streams and waterfalls — and with natural distribution restricted to the American continent ranging from Southern Mexico to Northern Argentina and across the Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia — glass frogs are categorized from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable (depending on the species) on the most recent IUCN Red List assessments.
“Glass frogs, or “ranas de cristal,” fall among the taxa whose international trade could significantly threaten their survival in the wild.”
With the particularity of having a transparent abdominal skin through which their internal organs are visible, glass frogs have become popular in the international pet trade. These species sell for significant prices in consumer countries, suggesting that demand is high. Even though not all of the glass frog species have been recorded in international trade, similarity in color and size makes it difficult to differentiate among the various species, which poses a challenge to those responsible for the regulation and control of its trade.
During this CITES CoP18, a proposal by Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras aims to include these frogs in Appendix II. Specifically they propose that 17 species across the four genera be included due to their Red List conservation status.
Eleven more species are proposed for Appendix II due to the real possibility that they may soon become threatened with extinction due to their documented presence in international trade. And still 77 more species are proposed for Appendix II due to their resemblance to threatened species — making it difficult for customs and enforcement officials to tell them apart.
“Eleven more species are proposed for Appendix II due to the real possibility that they may soon become threatened with extinction due to their documented presence in international trade.”
With field programs in many glass frog range state countries in Latin America, WCS works to conserve many of the habitats and ecosystems where these unique amphibians live. We share the concern of international trade becoming an additional and significant threat to many species.
For this reason, WCS will continue to invest in efforts to ensure the survival and sustainability of glass frogs in the wild, and calls on all governments to support the proposal — so as to catalyze international trade regulatory actions now and avoid coming back to CoP19 three years from now to learn how much more endangered these frog species are.
Adrian Reuter is Latin American Wildlife Trafficking Coordinator for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).