Could celebrities save our toads? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Could celebrities save our toads?

Our conservation correspondent wonders what can be done to ensure the survival of toads and other elusive species.

AS A YOUNGSTER I WAS
ALWAYS FASCINATED
with
searching for and trying to catch wild
animals around where I lived, be it
small mammals, birds or amphibians
like frogs, newts and most elusive of
all, toads.

There was something
incredibly exciting
about turning over a
rock to find a newt or
frog hidden beneath it, and I remember my
brother’s speciality was
slow worms.

I don’t know if this propensity
for “hunting” for wild things is an
inherited or a learned characteristic,
but my own children followed in my
footsteps, some of them more so than
others.

Where I live now there has always
been an abundance of toads and I
could probably go outside now and
within 20 minutes, perhaps less, find a
good-sized specimen under some logs
or a pile of bricks. For me toads have
a kind of “glamour” and mystique not
possessed by frogs.

Sadly, toad numbers in the UK
have been falling consistently over the
last 30 years. A recent survey by the
charity Froglife puts that fall at 68%
nationwide with even greater declines
in parts of the south-east. This decline has come to light largely through the
efforts of volunteers who undertake
patrols in the spring to carry toads
safely across roads as they return to
their breeding ponds. Despite their
efforts, the number of toads they transport has declined
in the numbers already
stated.

The reasons for the
decline are postulated to
be habitat loss, a change
in farming practices,
and loss of suitable
breeding ponds – in other words the “usual suspects”.
But an increase in urbanisation and the number of cars on the road is also
likely to be highly significant with death
on the roads a common occurrence.

Installing tunnels under the road
for toads to utilise has been shown to
be beneficial, but in times of austerity
is unlikely
to be a high
priority. Toads
do thrive in
suburban
gardens, so
making our
gardens more
wildlife-friendly
in general
and toad-friendly in particular would be a useful
contribution to the cause.

While the reduction in toad
numbers is alarming, they are not yet
threatened unlike many of the species
which were discussed at the latest
CITES meeting in Johannesburg.

Delegates there voted to increase
the protection given to several
shark species, bolstering previous
protections which have been shown to
be effective.

However, the delegates rejected a
call to uplist the African elephant,
thereby failing to give it the protection
that many conservationists now
believe it requires.

This was in large part a result of the
28 EU countries voting as a “block”
and therefore preventing the measure
reaching the two-thirds majority
needed to change the convention.

Critics of the EU’s decision
suggested it was largely
a political
manoeuvre
to side with
South Africa,
the most
economically
powerful
country on
the continent,
and which was strongly opposed to the proposal.
Political pressure can be both positive and negative when it comes to
wildlife conservation. Campaigns that
harness the popularity of celebrities
such as sports stars can be particularly
influential.

As an example, the Chinese
basketball star Yao Ming has appeared
in advertisements on Chinese buses
urging people to stop eating shark fin
soup, and he proposed to the Chinese
government the ban on ivory sales
which was subsequently adopted.

By harnessing the power of
celebrities, the decisions made by
organisations such as CITES can be
disseminated to a wider audience and
ultimately to governments who can
then take the action necessary to bring
about change.

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