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Chilean Appetite for Helmeted Water Toad May Lead to Species Extinction, New Study Claims

Frogs may not be high on the grocery list in some countries, but the coveted helmeted water toad, also known as the Chilean giant frog, is a culinary treat in Chile. The largest amphibian in the country is at risk of extinction, according to a recent scientific study and researchers say that human consumption is one of the main causes for the animal's drastic population decline.

Dr. Marcela Vidal, a researcher at Chile's University of Bio-Bio's Genomics and Biodiversity Laboratory recently told EFE, a Spanish international news agency, that people feast on the helmeted water toad because of the meat's "succulent" taste. The frog can also grow to over two pounds, with adult females reaching up to one foot in length, which is another major reason the frog is hunted for food.

(Flickr/Jardin Botanico Nacional)

With about 30 percent of the helmeted water toads disappearing within the past ten years, the Chilean government recognized how swiftly the amphibian's numbers were dropping and began enlisting conservation biologists in 2010 to conceive a protection plan for the endangered frogs.

In late June of this year, the helmeted water toad was added to a list of protected species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which works to regulate the commercial trade of animals. Despite this achievement, the amphibian is still being hunted for food "due to demand in the hotel and catering" sector, Vidal said in a statement to EFE. To make matters worse, the frog's mating season, when the animal is particularly vulnerable, is concurrent with Chile's tourist season, when the frog meat is in very high demand.

Currently the helmeted water toad is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species; the last assessment of the frog by IUCN was made in 2008, when over-exploitation as an exotic food source and water pollution were listed as the frog's primary threats, and not much has changed since then.

The amphibian's freshwater habitat has been severely diminished due to water pollution and drainage because the frog primarily lives alongside Chile's most populated areas. Whether the helmeted water toad winds up on a plate, or on a dry bed, human interaction is devastating the population and further assistance is needed so that the frog does not go extinct.