明報  2005-02-17

Frogging safari is catching on

AMAZULU GAME RESERVE - They are voracious (貪吃的 ) predators (食肉或食蟲的生 物 ) that make scores of (大量的 ) kills (獵獲物 ) each night , many are brilliantly coloured and few creatures can match them for raw agility (矯捷 ) and prowess (高超本領 ) .

Yet not many visitors to South Africa's game peserves (野生動物保護區 ) give much notice to the lowly (卑微的 ) frog , with lions , elephants and other big critters (動物 ) topping their list of "must see" animals .

Alwyn Wentzel hopes to change this as he pioneers a novel (新的 ) concept in ecotourism (生態旅遊 ) - frog safaris .

"Frogging is physical , it's challenging . Unlike game (野生動物 ) viewing or birding you have to get in there and get dirty , " Wentzel said as he sloshed ((泥或 水)跋涉 ) through the muck (淤泥 ) in search of quarry (追逐的目標 ) , a headlamp lighting his way through the inky (漆黑的 ) darkness .

The goal is simple and the same as bird watching : spot and identify as many frog species as you can in the run (一段時間 ) of a night .

The difference with bird watching is that you try and catch the animals in your hand to get a proper look at them before releasing them - which is no easy task and involves lots of sliding (滑行 ) in the mud and splashing through water .

And doing it at night in the Amazulu Game Reserve in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province has an added element of danger : this is a "Big 5" country , home to lion , leopard () , buffalo (水牛 ) , rhino (犀牛 ) and elephant , not to mention (更不用說 ) crocodiles .

This means frogging is done with a . 375 rifle (步槍 ) close at hand , with big spotlights shone over potential spots from the vehicle to see if any dangerous creatures are lurking (潛伏 ) in the vicinity (附近 ) .

"We're not going to be doing much frogging here which is unfortunate as it's an ideal spot , " said Wentzel , pointing to a pair of young male lions sprawled on the muddy bank of a dam .

Undeterred (不灰心的 ) , the search continued elsewhere .

"Look out for crocodiles . If you see what looks like a tiny red light moving through the water , let me know , " said Wentzel as he ploughed into the reeds in the shallow part of a dam in search of painted reed frogs .

Tumbling (跌跌撞撞地 走 ) through the foliage () eventually brought succes .

"This is a beautiful painted reed frog , " Wentzel said , holding the tiny black and yellow specimen up to the light before allowing it to escape from the palm of his hand .

The night's outing yielded eight species , including a banded rubber frog , a rarely seen red and black creature whose sharp colours warn predators that it is poisonous .

The most amazing sighting (看見(尤指不尋常的事 物) ) was a tiny specimen in the throes (痛苦的掙扎 ) of metamorphosis (變態 ) between tadpole (蝌蚪 ) and adult frog . Hopping () on land but still burdened by its aquatic (水生動物的 ) tail , it resembled a freakish (古怪 的 ) jumping lizard .

Wentzel reckons (估計 ) there are about 20 species on the 12 , 000 hectare reserve .

Some enthusiasts (愛好者 ) say frogs are of interest because of their crucial role in the ecosystem , their diversity and their astonishing athletic feats (技藝 ) . Several species can jump up to many times their own body length .

"Wildlife lodges are asking for courses on frogs to take their guests out after dark to introduce them to frogs , " said Vincent Carruthers , who has written several guide books to frogs in South Africa .

Carruthers said South Africa alone was home to about 110 species of frogs and toads (蟾蜍 ) .

"They are very large consumers of insects but in turn are preyed upon (捕食 ) themsleves by birds and snakes , so they sit midway up the food chain . That makes them an important group to monitor the environmental health of a region , " he said .

Frogs also have a highly permeable (可滲透的 ) skin which makes them extremely sensitive to changes in freshwater (淡水 ) and air quality .

The signals they are sending are troubling .

A major study released late last year - the Global Amphibian (兩棲動物 ) Assessment - estimated that about one third of the 5 , 743 known amphibian species were threatened with extinction . By comparison , only 12 % of bird and 23 % of mammal (哺乳類 ) species are endangered . Reuters ヾ Frogging 在這堳 「 觀蛙 」 。 Safari 指 「 (非洲的)旅 遊、遊獵 」 。