A voracious appetite for frog legs among the French and Belgians is driving species in Indonesia, Turkey and Albania to the brink of extinction, according to a report.
Europe imports up to 200 million mostly wild frogs each year, contributing to a serious depletion of native species overseas.
Scientists estimate that the Anatolian water frog could be extinct in Turkey by 2032, due to overexploitation while other species like the Albanian water frog are now threatened.
Export quotas for the Javanese tree frog from Indonesia have also been withdrawn in a move conservationists suspect is the result of population depletion.
Dr Sandra Altherr, co-founder of conservation charity Pro Wildlife, co-author of the report, said: “In Indonesia, as now also in Turkey and Albania, large frog species are declining in the wild, one after the other, causing a fatal domino effect for species conservation.
“If the plunder of the European market continues, it is highly likely that we will see more severe declines in wild frog populations and, potentially, extinctions over the next decade.”
Charlotte Nithart, president of the French NGO Robin des Bois, who co-authored the article, said: “Frogs play a central role in the ecosystem as killers of insects – and where frogs disappear , the use of toxic pesticides is increasing. Therefore, the trade in frog legs has direct consequences not only on the frogs themselves, but also on the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem as a whole.
Amphibians are the most endangered group among vertebrates, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the EU Habitats Directive prevents the capture of native wild frogs in member countries.
The bloc of 27 countries does not limit imports and each year, however, around 4,070 tonnes of frogs caught abroad are served on European plates.
The craving for frog meat appears to be highest in Belgium, which takes 70% of imports, but Pro Wildlife says most of that is then sent to France, which directly imports 16.7%. The Netherlands collect 6.4%.
The IUCN will publish a report on the conservation status of amphibians later this year, but Jennifer Luedtke, who manages the union’s Red List assessments, said at least 1,200 species of amphibians – 17% of the total – are traded on the international market.
“This is causing drastic population declines in countries where these frogs come from, as well as the unintended spread of deadly amphibian pathogens,” she said.
“A change in public consciousness must take place in Europe [to realise] that the burden of these declines in amphibian populations is placed on poorer countries due to demand from the wealthier.
Luedtke, who also coordinates the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group, said: “We need to talk about sustainable use and if that’s even possible.”
Indonesia supplies around 74% of the frogs imported into the EU, followed by Vietnam with 21%, Turkey 4% and Albania 0.7%, the report said.
Overexploitation in non-EU countries has led the IUCN to assign vulnerable and near-threatened classifications to species such as the giant spiny frog in China and the Asian frog in Cambodia.
In Africa, fewer than 250 mature Togo slipper frogs are thought to survive, and the giant African bullfrog may already be extinct in Swaziland.
Pro Wildlife and Robin de Bois say they want EU countries to restrict imports, ensure traceability of frog legs products, provide better information to consumers and develop proposals for listing endangered species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
Altherr also called for an end to cruel practices such as cutting frog legs with axes or scissors without anesthesia.
EU insiders suggested it was unfortunate that the Pro Wildlife report was published after the June 17 deadline for submitting listing proposals to the next Cites Conference of the Parties, which will take place in Panama in november.
A European Commission official said: “The EU is ready to consider supporting any nomination from [Cites] Range States, for which there is scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a risk that international trade threatens the survival of the species.