There is the distinct possibility that, lately, my family and friends all think that I’ve gone mad. Frog mad. My Facebook posts are almost exclusively photos of frogs and frog-related news. When someone at a party asks me what’s happening, I’m likely to launch into a lecture about how we need to alter a value system gone awry in order to save frogs. My partner can’t get through the door of our apartment before I pull out my favorite frog photo of the day to show off. And today I’m headed to Panama, where I will work with some of the most beautiful treasures our planet has to offer—and to meet the heroes trying to save them in a world where one species is too dangerously preoccupied to pay much heed to others.
The truth is that I took to frogs early on, learning as a kid to catch bullfrogs in a nearby pond with my bare hands and racing frogs against my sister’s toads on camping trips. But it wasn’t until I started my job at the National Zoo and became a part of the communicatinos team for this rescue project that the interest was re-ignited—and now the passion is yet again aflame.
There’s more to it than a personal fascination with these animals. Somewhere in the detour from my childhood love, I lost my sense of connection to my home—the Earth—and all of the creatures I share with it. Like so many others, I let the very planet that sustains me slip from under me, feeling powerless among the extinctions and oil spills and burgeoning levels of pollution. My interest in frogs is the barometer by which I measure my connection to nature and my willingness to be a fierce steward of its health.
To a large extent, although many animals need our help, humankind’s effort to conserve amphibians is the barometer by which I measure the health of our values, as they relate to Mother Nature. How can we be responsible citizens of the world if we ignore the largest extinction event since the time of the dinosaurs? How can we not cherish a planet that offers a world so markedly different from those that neighbor us in the solar system and beyond? How can we not feel privileged to be the species with the power to protect all others?
Plus, frogs are just dang cool, from the golden poison frog that can make you numb just by perching nearby (they don’t call him Phyllobates terribilis for nothing!); to the lemur leaf frog who can rival any puppy in cuteness; to the Panamanian golden frog, who waves to potential mates—or even, perhaps, just to greet one another. The biodiversity in the frog world alone is one of the natural world’s gifts that we should celebrate and marvel at.
Today I head to a country that is rapidly losing this part of its natural beauty, like so many other places around the world. For the week I get to be among that beauty, to lend the rescue mission my words, fueled by my childhood passion. A week to be nothing but frog mad.
More dispatches to come throughout the week.
–Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo