A meeting was held on November 20th in the Bahia Roja community (Bastimentos Island) after the national police received a disturbing report regarding the mistreatment of a Red Frog. A group of tourists claimed that they were approached by a child with a Red Frog in a plastic bag asking for a donation to see the frog. Not wanting to contribute to the mistreatment of the animal, they politely declined. The child went onto threaten that if they did not give him $5, that he would kill the frog. Sargent Martin Sanchez was very alarmed by this report and immediately organized a meeting with the Bahia Roja community (neighbors to Red Frog beach) alongside representatives of ANAM and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Sgt. Sanchez began the charla (chat) with an excellent slideshow presentation educating the community about the rare frog species that exists only in this part of the world. First, some fun facts about the famous Red Frog or as scientists like to call it- Dendrobates pumilio:
- *There are 6 varieties of the same species on Bastimentos, which differ only by color and are each endemic to their own section of the island
- *They are extremely toxic
- *Scientists are actively researching the evolutionary significance of their variance in color
He explained that their habitat is in the jungle, in the cool, damp areas of the rain forest floor and that they are not meant to survive on the beach underneath the hot sun. When the frogs are taken out of the forest in this manner and are brought to the beach to be shown to tourists, there is very little chance that they will be able to hop away from their day at the beach alive. Hernandez Bonilla of ANAM and Cristian Harris of the Smithsonian were there as well to educate the community about this issue and they confirmed that frogs subject this treatment have all but a 0% chance of survival.
Sanchez went on to stress the importance of this species for tourism in the area: “People come from all over the world to see this rare frog species. What would happen if there were no more red frogs?” He also touched on the importance of tourism in general for economic prosperity in Bocas del Toro, concluding that if people stopped visiting, staying in the hotels, eating at the restaurants and going on tours, than a lot of people would lose their jobs.
“I come today not only as a policeman, but as an ecologist,” said the police chief. One more fun fact, but this time about Sgt. Martin Sanchez: during his high school studies in Volcan, he used to volunteer with 2 groups: Los Quetzales and ANCON (Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza), where he worked on reforestation projects, beach clean ups, and other conservation projects.
Sgt. Sanchez made it clear that if children are found doing the same type of activities (harming the frogs) that the parents of the children will be held accountable under laws #24 and #41, which protect the endangered frog species. These laws carry up to $1,000 fine.
The sergeant also provided some ideas for alternative solutions to this issue. He suggested that instead of harming the frogs for a photo on the beach that the children should learn about the frogs and teach the tourists about this marvelous creature. Perhaps they can offer their services as a guide and bring them to see the frogs in their natural habitat. The tourists get to see the frog, the kids get their tip and no frogs are harmed in the process.
Thanks to Sgt. Martin Sanchez for his dedication to protecting and serving and his continued effort bringing forth preventative measures to fight crime. Thanks to ANAM and the Smithsonian for sharing their expertise on this issue. Communication is they key in resolving these issues.