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Coqui: A National Symbol?

Let Our Frogs Live!

Puerto Rico Asks Tree Frog Protection

September 8, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rico's government has asked U.S. authorities to halt a federal program to eradicate the chirping tree frogs loved in their native Puerto Rico but considered a noisy pest in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is developing a caffeine-based spray to kill the frogs, known affectionately as ``coquis'' in Puerto Rico. The caffeine spray would cause cardiac failure in the frogs.

``I urge the department to stop any eradication program that may exist and seek alternatives to the indiscriminate killing of the coqui frog in Hawaii,'' Anibal Acevedo Vila, Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress, wrote in a letter to the agency Friday.

Acevedo called the frog a ``national symbol'' and asked for any studies on the environmental impacts of the coquis in Hawaii. He said he was ``deeply concerned'' that the eradication program ``may be based on misguided policies.''

The letter was sent to Bobby Acord, head of the agriculture department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The service runs the research center in Hawaii developing the eradication plan, which still must pass regulatory hurdles.

Officials at the service were not immediately available for comment Friday evening.

Local press reports about the extermination plan have whipped up indignation among Puerto Ricans, who wonder why anyone could see the frog as a pest. In Puerto Rico, the coquis adorn bumper stickers and t-shirts.

Their name, pronounced koh-KEE, imitates the two-tone chirp of the frogs. Puerto Ricans consider the call melodious.

Biologists believe the amphibians arrived by accident in Hawaii, possibly with shipments of ornamental plants. In recent years, at least one species of coqui has colonized some 150 areas on the state's biggest island, driving unaccustomed residents crazy with the noisy chirping.

Biologists fear the coquis will prey on native insects, spread plant diseases and increase rat and mongoose populations by serving as a food source. The coquis have also been seen on Oahu, Maui and Kauai. In some areas, there are some 8,000 frogs per acre.

The eradication plan still has to pass regulatory hurdles. Officials at the agriculture department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is developing the plan at a research center in Hawaii, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Many Urge Hawaii To Let Our Frogs Live

Iván Román

September 9, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- In this tropical island, the coqui, the small chirping frog that graces the countryside with its song, is a national symbol, intrinsically tied to people's cultural identity.

In the tropical islands of Hawaii on the other side of the world, it's an interloping pest officials want to kill. How? By spraying them with so much caffeine they'll have heart attacks. How much caffeine? The equivalent of a human adult drinking 150 cans of Coca-Cola.

Hawaii residents are told to call an 800 number to report sightings or "hearings" of the little frogs no bigger than a coin that sing their name into the night, "CO-KEE, CO-KEE." State officials are waiting for federal approval to use the caffeine concentrate, which the coquis will absorb through their skin or bellies as they jump on leaves that have been sprayed. Researchers say the death is swift and painless.

That's little comfort to people in Puerto Rico, where for killing a coqui you would be hanged in the public square. Take how Americans would feel if Canadians rounded up bald eagles and injected them with poison and multiply that by 1,000. Puerto Ricans grow up with coqui's song, might have a few in their back yards or hundreds in the hills that nestle their homes.

Lawmakers in San Juan talk of educating Hawaiians about the virtues of their amphibious ambassadors' song. Others talk of catching them and flying them to Puerto Rico on chartered planes.

"I don't know if it's feasible to bring them back here, but I assure you that here they are more than welcome," said Rep. Anibal Acevedo Vila, the island's resident commissioner in Washington.

On Friday, Puerto Rico asked U.S. authorities to halt the plan to eradicate the frogs.

But environmentalists say the mass "coquicide" is necessary. Probably brought to Hawaii in plants about 10 years ago, coquis reproduced quickly and established colonies on three islands.

The song of a few of the frogs is pleasant, but when you have thousands close to you, herpetologist Fred Kraus says, it's like a migraine. In a place with few predators to eat them, with such dense foliage that they can hide and protect their nests, the coquis are more than just a bother.

Fewer guests are flocking to some hotels in Maui because of the noise of the Eleutherodactylus coqui. The coquis, in some places more densely gathered than in Puerto Rico, have turned some forest reserves into "walls of sound."

Kraus, the pioneer in Hawaii's coqui-eradication campaign, said he understands Puerto Ricans' balking at the slaughter. But it follows no environmental logic.

"That's like saying that the bear was the national symbol of Russia, so why not take bears to Puerto Rico," said Kraus, a herpetologist with the Bishop Museum.

It's still not clear what long-term impact the coqui could have on Hawaii's delicate ecosystem. But officials say experience with other invasive species such as the mongoose or feral cats show there is reason enough to act. And national pride aside, environmentalists seem to speak the same language.

"For us of course it's shocking," said Miguel A. Garcia, endangered-species coordinator of Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. "There are a lot of people who call here to complain about Hawaii, but we have to explain to them why it's a danger there. I agree with what they're doing."

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