In a news article aired by the National Radio Chamber of Costa Rica (CANARA in Spanish), renowned agricultural and ecosystems expertAlexander Bonilla Duran gave some interesting insight behind Kolbi, ICE’s amphibian choice for branding of its popular wireless communications and data services. The powerful government-sponsored ICE consortium currently enjoys the lion’s share of the lucrative Tico wireless market.
The Kolbi logo resembles a highly-stylized interpretation of an agalychnis callidryas (red-eyed tree frog), a colorful species that is abundant in many of our forests. The attractive anatomy of the red-eyed tree frog has made it an unofficial symbol of Costa Rica, like the toucan and the sloth, although it is important to note that our sole patriotic animal symbol is the turdus grayi (yiguirro).
Here’s what Don Alexander Bonilla Duran said about Kolbi:
“Not too many people know about what Kolbi really means. First of all, I have to let you know that Kolbi means ‘tree frog’ in the Cabecar dialect. Thus, we can’t really say that Kolbi is a frog in particular, since there are many tree frogs.
One wonders whether ICE asked for permission from the Cabecar indigenous people to register the name as a commercial brand. One wonders if ICE paid the Cabecar anything for the right to use the word?
Let’s talk about what’s really important about frogs. Many species -including some humans- eat frogs, but they are far more important than just nourishment. Frogs are an important indicator of the health of the habitats they live in and the ecosystems they form a part of. If you see frogs suddenly disappearing from your neighborhood, this means something is definitely wrong.”
Other Amphibians in Costa Rica
For all the ecological conservation efforts in Costa Rica, some of our frogs and toads are disappearing and letting us know that something is wrong. Don Alexander Bonilla Duran continued his radio address by explaining that:
“Climatological changes could make swamp areas disappear. Just this event may have caused repercussions in the disappearance of our Golden Toad from Monteverde, a species that has not been sighted in many years. This means that global warming is already having an impact on Costa Rica’s ecology.”
Here Don Alexander is referring to bufo periglenes, a pretty, shiny golden amphibian that was declared extinct in 1989 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Our golden toad lived in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and hypotheses attributing to its extinction and confirmed by the IUCN allude to the El Ninoweather phenomenon, chytridiomycosis, and unintended loss of habitat due to airborne pollution and global warming. These days, the golden toad can be seen in old travel posters promoting ecotourism.
When researching the golden toad in 1987, American researcher Martha Crump observed that the shallow breeding pools of golden toads dried up in just a few days during her period of observation. Warmer temperatures and reduced humidity in Monteverde destroyed the brood, eggs and nesting sites of the golden toads.
The Killer Fungus
The pleasant temperatures of the golden toad’s habitat had a lot more to do with its extinctions than global warming. When large populations of frogs and toads are found floating belly up in their ponds, a killer fungus tends to emerge as one of the usual suspects.
For amphibians, chytridiomycosis is a fatal disease caused by a chytrid fungus that thrives in mountainous regions with significant cloud cover, just like Monteverde. This fungus flourishes in temperatures between 10 and 28 degrees (Celsius). The unfortunate amphibians that come in contact with this chytrid fungus suffer ulcers, hemorrhage, convulsions, and become lethargic to the point of being completely exposed to predators.
Chytridiomycosis is now threatening other amphibians in Costa Rica. Rana vibicaria -the green-eyed frog- has been classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, due to deadly outbreaks of chytridiomycosis in the mountain forests of Tilaran all the way south to Talamanca.
The BBC recently reported on efforts taken by herpetologists from the Chester Zoo in England to save our green-eyed frog. These scientists built special amphibian pods that essentially replicate the frogs’ rainforest habitat so they can be transported to Cheshire. Once in England, the researchers will attempt to get the frogs to breed, while Tico researchers will attempt to do the same here. The goal is to avoid extinction while investigating the causes for the increase in chytridiomycosis, and whether ecotourists may unknowingly be carriers of the spores.
Threats to our Frogs are Threats to Us
In a recent comment from one of our dear readers, who is also a popular radio personality in Costa Rica, the concept of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) was challenged. In terms of the golden toad and the green-eyed frog, AGW may not necessarily be to blame for their endangerment, as the killer fungus and El Nino are clear culprits. We should not, however, adopt an anthropocentric stance whereupon we are resigned to consider climate change and fungal outbreaks simply as Nature doing her job. We should do something about it, just like the herpetologists from the Chester Zoo are attempting to do.
Don Alexander concluded his observation on the Kolbi-ICE affair with a sensible warning:
“Pesticides may also be implicated in the endangerment of frogs. In California, the use of pesticides has been linked to the breakdown of amphibian nervous systems, something that caused a sharp reduction in frog populations.
So now we know that frogs are like a barometer of Nature. They are very sensitive, and thus easily affected by changes to ecosystems. The day that all frogs become extinct, mankind will follow. We should really pay attention to what frogs have to tell us.
We hope that the popularity of the Kolbi brand serves as a good economic indicator for ICE. If our Kolbi frogs disappear, so will ICE and the rest of us.”
In the end, it’s more a matter of sustainability than anything else. We need our amphibians as reliable barometers of healthy habitats. Therefore, we should think of them as a natural resource. Brazilian philosopher Leonardo Boff explains it very elegantly: