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Shanghai Looks to Save Amphibians
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Rural areas in Shanghai once rang with the sounds of croaking frogs and toads. Now people are more likely to find the amphibians in the market than in a swamp.

According to a report by the Shanghai Wild Animal Protection Center, people in this city eat 80 million frogs and toads a year. The local appetite for the creatures is threatening the city's environment and that of nearby provinces. It has also pushed a rare species to the verge of extinction.

In random raids on markets and restaurants, the Shanghai landscaping administration bureau discovered that 102 out of 267 restaurants in 16 districts were selling dishes made of frogs, toads and snakes. Some 139 out of 259 markets were found selling wild animals, while 32 of the 33 restaurants in one town offered baked toads as snacks.

Pei Enle, director of the Shanghai Wild Animal Protection Center, said markets in the city sell some 80 million frogs and toads - about 3,000 tons worth - every year.

As a result, Shanghai's countryside is much quieter than it once was.

"Visits to Shanghai's paddy fields revealed that it is rare to hear the sound of croaking frogs," Pei said.

"And not only did we not hear any Tiger Frogs, which are under national protection, we also did not see any."

With the local supply of amphibians running low, frogs and toads are being imported from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, according to Gao Xiangwei, an official with the Shanghai landscaping administration bureau.

"Frogs and toads are not protected wild animals in these two provinces, so it is legal to sell and eat them," Pei said.

"But Shanghai is short on most natural resources, which means wild animals need stricter protections."

Pei said exporting amphibians would affect agriculture and the environment in the two provinces.

"I think the size of the amphibian population is one of the major reflections of a place's environment," he said.

Frogs prey on the kind of pests that could damage crops. Any decline in their population could result in expanded use of pesticides.

Gao said the municipal government was negotiating a halt to the trade with officials in Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

"Protecting frogs not only requires attention from the government, but also from the public," Pei said.

More than 10 government departments are involved in protecting wild animals, but the supervision of markets and other points of entry into the city is not strict enough, according to a release from the center.

And some towns still list baked toads as a local specialty.

(China Daily July 25, 2007)

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