Wed, Jan 08, 2014 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: ‘Tree Frog Mom’ saves threatened frogs

‘TREE FROG FEVER’:Hsiao Su Shu-chen came upon a conservation group by chance, and then developed an obsession with ensuring the frogs have a home in Taipei

By Chen Wei-tzu and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

“Tree Frog Mom” Hsiao Su Shu-chen displays a cutout photograph of a Taipei tree frog at Zhongqiang Park in Taipei’s Xinyi District on Dec. 13 last year.

Photo: Chen Wei-tzu, Taipei Times

For many passengers, it was puzzling to see sculptures of frogs at the new Xiangshan MRT station at the eastern end of the recently launched Xinyi Line in Taipei.

Yet what the public is now discovering is that the tree-lined Zhongqiang Park (中強公園) next to the station is the last remaining, low-level breeding habitat of an endemic species of Taipei tree frog.

It is nothing short of remarkable that the threatened indigenous frog species, Rhacophorus taipeianus, known for its jade-green back and yellow ventral side, can still be found in Taipei, in a spot with a superb view of Taipei 101.

Much of the credit is due to the tireless work of Hsiao Su Shu-chen (蕭蘇淑貞), whose conservation efforts have earned her the nickname of “Tree Frog Mom” among locals.

For the past 11 years, Hsiao was at the forefront of protecting the final wetland habitat for Taipei’s tree frogs.

A resident of the nearby Sanli Community (三犁社區) for more than 50 years, Hsiao Su has witnessed the area’s transformation.

“In the early days, there were many frog species in Zhongqiang Park, including the Taipei tree frog. Their croaking sounds filled the air,” she said.

However, construction of the Xinyi Expressway and for the MRT line seriously damaged the frogs’ natural habitat.

“These days, we are finding fewer tree frogs, maybe only about five or six are left in the park,” she said.

“Originally, Zhongqiang Park was a wilderness. Later, water accumulated due to leakages from local housing pipelines and created a small artificial wetland, thus attracting tree frogs from the nearby Elephant Mountain (象山) to breed here,” Hsiao Su said.

“So it began as a ‘beautiful error,’ an unintentional miscue. When environmentalists found the tree frogs here, they dug to enlarge the pond and planted aquatic vegetation to create a suitable habitat for the frogs,” she added.

Then, one day in 2003, a crowd gathered in the park, and she thought maybe it was then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) coming for a visit. Out of curiosity, she said she headed to the park to find out what was going on.

“It was a gathering of members of a conservation group, who were demanding that the city save the threatened Taipei tree frogs. This really piqued my interest, because I was wondering what was so special about this particular species,” she said.

After that, Hsiao Su began a journey of ecological discovery by reading books, seeking guidance from experts and attending a training class of volunteers to protect the frogs.

“At that time, I got so caught up in it that I was like a crazy woman, totally absorbed in these tree frogs,” she said. “Once, I caught a bunch of tadpoles and took them home to observe their behavior. I was filled with excitement and stayed up all night. Also when people mentioned they saw tree frogs at some place, I would rush over there to have a look.”

Looking back now, she can laugh at her “tree frog fever” days.

Later on, to build habitats for the frogs, she used hundreds of thousands of New Taiwan dollars of her own money to hire excavators to dig five ponds. Each pond had a different set-up, as advised by experts, underlined with concrete, plastic sheeting or other materials.

She said it was to test and determine which wetland environment the tree frogs liked the best.

She then invited volunteers from conservation groups to plant ginger lily, elephant ear taro and other wetland vegetation, providing protective cover, climbing structures and food sources for the frogs. She also initiated a program to sign up “adoptive parents” for the tree frogs.

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