Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Dubai vet sees rise in 'killer bullfrogs' as owners treat them as disposable pets

The creatures have a strong bite and can devour rodents whole, though they pose little danger to humans

They are cannibals, eat anything in their path and breed at such a rate they are wiping out native populations of birds, rodents and reptiles around the world.

Now they are becoming more common in the UAE.

Like the dreaded cockroach, the North American bullfrog is one of nature’s resounding success stories and fast gaining a similar reputation of indestructibility.

Vets are reporting a rampant rise in the number of the belching amphibians, which can weigh 700 grams and grow to 20 centimetres long, after seeing them imported into Asian food markets and as pets

“I have seen very large bullfrogs sold in Sharjah, and there are many Chinese coming to Dubai now who are giving them to children like goldfish for birthday presents,” said Dr Piotr Jaworski, a vet and exotic pet expert at the Advanced Pet Clinic in Al Wasl, Dubai.

They are cannibals, eat anything in their path and breed at such a rate they are wiping out native populations of birds, rodents and reptiles all over the world.

The frogs are generally imported into Asian food markets and as pets.

“I have seen very large bullfrogs sold in Sharjah, and there are many Chinese coming to Dubai now who are giving them to children, like goldfish, for birthday presents,” said Dr Piotr Jaworski, a vet and exotic pet expert at the Advanced Pet Clinic in Al Wasl, Dubai.

“When they get too big, they are often released into the locality. That is when they become an invasive species.

“Bullfrogs will eat anything, from insects to small rodents and even birds.

“It won’t be long before they will feed on the young of local and migratory birds.”

Despite Dr Jaworski’s concerns, authorities say the species does not pose a serious threat to the UAE. Its strong bite and toxic skin do not pose a danger to humans.

Invasive species are one of the top five direct causes of biodiversity loss.

Alien species increase competition for food, water, habitat and shelter.

They also increase predation, disease and parasites, leading to loss of biodiversity, deterioration of ecosystems and habitat degradation.

This country has an increasing number of invasive species like these bullfrogs

Dr Piotr Jaworski, Advanced Pet Clinic

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment works closely with the concerned local departments to identify invasive species and how they get into the country.

A recent survey revealed the existence of 24 invasive species in the UAE. They include the rock dove, house crow and the feral cat and goat.

African donkeys are also considered an invasive species, as are brown rats, the house mouse and ants from Singapore and Argentina.

Invasive species are divided into taxonomic groups: plants, insects, mammals and birds – but the American bullfrog is not currently on a watch list.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said bullfrogs were not yet considered a threat to local wildlife and fauna.

“The American bullfrog is only found in small numbers in the UAE,” he said. “It is not considered an invasive species because it doesn’t meet the definition and criteria to identify a species as an invasive.”

Dr Jaworski thinks that is likely to change, mainly owing to the illegal exotic pet trade that has little consideration for the damage done to local environments when imported animals are later released into the wild.

“This country has an increasing number of invasive species, like these bullfrogs,” he said.

“They are commonly farmed in Asia, and imported either as pets or for the Chinese food market and as reptile food.

“The UAE is at risk of them becoming a disaster as the numbers are increasing.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists bullfrogs as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species.

They cite many examples of invasive bullfrogs threatening native species worldwide.

In an online blog for the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, biologist Stan Orchard said bullfrogs were eating egg-bearing adult female frogs, killing dozens of tree frogs in a single gulp.

Dr Jaworski warned of the risk of sleepwalking into an ecological disaster when preventive measures are not taken against rapid population growth.

“Research needs to be done into how they are getting into the UAE so better controls can be implemented,” he said.

“They are sold very cheaply, for just Dh5. I’ve asked traders what they have them for, and they are used for larger bait animals for fish and reptiles.

“Frogs can be imported frozen for this use, but to import them without controls is irresponsible. “Trade in animals has little control and many buyers are not experienced in the issues of biodiversity and threats from invasive species.”

Updated: May 24, 2019 08:55 AM

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