Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Environmentalists rush to save farmland tree frogs

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A farmland tree frog, a species unique to Taiwan, sits on a leaf in this file photo. The frog's habitat in Sakhamtiam in Tainan County, the largest in Taiwan, is being threatened by the decision to turn the area into a housing area.

PHOTO: LIU WAN-CHUN, TAIPEI TIMES

In the past, Sakhamtiam (三崁店) in Tainan County was known for its old sugar plantations constructed during the Japanese colonial era.

A depression in the sugar industry forced Taiwan Sugar Corp to close many of its factories 17 years ago. Since then, Sakhamtiam has turned into a desolate area surrounded by untended plants and trees.

The deserted place, however, eventually became a natural habitat for farmland tree frogs (諸羅樹蛙) -- a species that is only found in Taiwan.

Environmentalist Pan Wu (吳仁邦) said that these frogs were first found in the old sugar factories in June.

The finding was significant, Wu said, because scientists used to believe that farmland tree frogs could only be seen in areas between the Cho Shui River (濁水溪) and north of Tsengwen River (曾文溪).

The habitat in Sakhamtiam, however, is located south of Tsengwen River, he said.

Wu said researchers have identified Sakhamtiam as the nation's largest habitat for farmland tree frogs. They further estimated that approximately 2,000 frogs live within this area of 10 hectares.

Wu said that the frogs are special because they are the only tree frogs living on the plains in Chiayi and Tainan counties. They usually reproduce in April, around the same time the nation's rainy season begins.

He said the frogs hide in the trees for the fall and winter.

Wu pointed out, however, that farmland tree frogs are now facing imminent threat.

Two days after the farmland frogs were found in the old sugar factories, Taiwan Sugar decided to demolish the entire property and turn it into a housing area, Wu said.

The crisis has united Wu and other environmentalists, who have launched a national campaign dedicated to saving farmland frogs.

Wu said that the frogs were discovered by scientists in 1995, but the Wildlife Protection Act (野生動物保育法) was passed 1987. The government has yet to amend the act and list the frogs as an endangered species, he said.

"The government is really taking small steps toward this [the amendment]," he said.

"The demolishment will destroy the most important germplasm bank of farmland tree frogs in Taiwan," he warned.

Wu and other environmental groups will hold a press conference in Taipei today.

They plan to ask President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) if he will "pardon" these frogs by preserving these old sugar factories in Sakhamtiam.

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