Nuwara-Eliya takes leap at becoming world frog hotspot

Saturday, 24 February 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • SL has 119 different species of frogs belonging to six families, 103 types are endemic
  • ‘The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya’ by naturalist Ishanda Senevirathna’s launched in Colombo


By Shannon Jayawardena

Despite being little known, Sri Lanka is a world frog hotspot with an abundant variety of frogs that are conserved and given great prominence as recently seen at St. Andrew’s in Nuwara Eliya.

Naturalist at Jetwing St. Andrew’s Ishanda Senevirathna’s newly launched book ‘The Peeping Frogs of Nuwara Eliya’ shares great insights and vast knowledge on the endangered species that are mostly endemic to Sri Lanka while promoting the country as the ideal destination for frog watching excursions.

In May 2002, the resident naturalist at the hotel came up with the idea of transforming the backyard into a conservation habitat for endangered frogs and established a haven for both flora and fauna in the country. Today it is home to six endangered species of frogs.

As of now, there are 119 different species of frogs in Sri Lanka belonging to six families out of which a total of 103 of them are endemic to the country. There are 82 species of shrubs and Tree Frogs, 13 species of Water Frogs, 10 species of Narrow-Mouthed Frogs, seven species of True Toads, three species of True Frogs and one species of Robust Frog.

Conservation and protection

Most of the frogs in the highlands are endangered and may not survive, due to the rapid industrial revolution that has taken place during the course of the past few years. Likewise, as Nuwara Eliya is one of the main agriculture-based cities, there is a heavy use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides.

Hence, habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution and agricultural chemicals, invasive species such as pesticides, infectious diseases, wet land encroachments, road kill, water pollution, and global warming, are the biggest threats a frog may face.

Author Ishanda Seneviratne speaking at the book launch said “Frogs play a major role in the food web and greatly contribute towards the eco-system. St. Andrew’s created some ponds and a man made garden into a habitat for the creatures. If we are conserving frogs we can protect all wildlife in the country.”

Frogs are sensitive to pollution hence many of them are endangered and are fighting to stay safe from extinction. Like all animals they too play a huge role in our ecosystem and it is crucial that we conserve these amphibians.

The best ways to conserve frogs are to avoid using chemical pesticides, protect their natural habitats, make sure more suitable habitats are prevalent, create awareness among the local people, and encourage research on frogs and their breeding grounds like the St. Andrew’s wetland.

Frog-friendly gardens are vital when it comes to saving these species as native plants give them more shade and sources of food. Nuwara Eliya is among Sri Lanka’s most visited cities thereby the frog-friendly gardens will contribute towards the frog-watching tours that will in turn provide additional income for the locals.

 “We began this from the heart and not from a business perspective. The abundant of frogs means you have an eco-friendly, chemical free garden. We never looked at creating this habitat at St. Andrew’s for a commercial purpose, just that we loved nature. It has now evolved into something different and fantastic,” Chairman Jetwing Hiran Cooray.

Frog watching, something rather strange but quite fascinating, is the observation of frogs in their natural habitat. Most of these species are relatively small, nocturnal, and masters of camouflage, therefore the key to a successful frog watch is to listen and pay attention to detail. Usually the amphibians prefer to stay close to or in a body of water.

Frog-watchers are known adventurers in countries elsewhere such as in Africa or Europe but are hardly ever found in Sri Lanka, although the country is marked to be a world frog hotspot. These adventurers usually step out at night with a flashlight with a red filter, as well as a notebook and pen. The red light is used because a frog’s skin is sensitive and susceptible to drying out under the strong white light.

St. Andrew’s frog watching excursions aims to create awareness and a unique ecotourism activity that will benefit the local community and expert watchers from the global community while encouraging the conversation of frog diversity in the area.

Frogs of Nuwara Eliya

Having the perfect climate, Nuwara Eliya is an ideal habitat for a variety of frog species that are abundantly visible during frog-watching tours. Montane Hourglass Tree Frog, Montane Frog, Half-Webbed Pug Snout Frog, Small-Eared Shrub Frog, Horton Plains Shrub Frog, Schmarda’s Shrub Frog, Leaf-Nesting Shrub Frog, Common House Toad, Dull-Green Shrub Frog, and the Narrow-Mouthed Frog are species that are found in the hill country of the Central Province.

These frogs start off as eggs which gradually hatch into tadpoles. Then the tiny tadpoles metamorphoses into becoming the ‘Peeping Frogs’ of Nuwara Eliya. The length of time depends on the species and environmental condition. They are air-breathing creatures who are mostly active during the night as their night vision is generally very well developed.

Former Head of the Department of Zoology Sarath Kotagama noted that: “This is something new to the county. When we set a standard and it’s a high standard others will automatically follow. First and foremost we have to watch the frogs in their own habitats and since we have to do it in the night you have to be very careful not to destroy these habitats.”

The exquisite amphibians communicate with their own making sounds by forcing air from their vocal chords. This sound is then amplified by the vocal sac which is a pouch of skin beneath the mouth.

Males spend much of their time during the breeding season, calling to attract females while each species has its own call pattern and females respond only to those of their own species. Calls are also important in establishing territories and warning other males. Therefore, paying attention to sound and attentive listening is the only way frog watchers can accomplish ticking off their checklist of found species.

 Ethical frog watching 

Jetwing Hotels are very committed to practicing responsible tourism and have vowed to take forward the concept by focusing on local culture and environment hence promoting wild expeditions and projects such as frog watching.

While the tours only admit the adventures to observe and explore the frogs and their habitats no person is encouraged to touch the frogs, eggs, or tadpoles. It is important that you are prepared with the right equipment and gear in order to carry out an enjoyable and exciting frog-watch tour in Nuwara Eliya.

-Pix by Gitika Talukdar