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The Cairns Frog Hospital

A Hospital Just for Frogs

A frog hospital? You're joking, right?

No joke. There really IS a "frog hospital" and it's located in Cairns on the coast of Far North Queensland, Australia.

You might not care about frogs all THAT much and their conservation might seem to be the bottom of the conservation ladder, but what is causing frogs to DIE should be of great concern to you! These animals are telling us what is wrong with the environment and, if we ignore those warning bells, then we do so at our own risk!

The Cairns Frog Hospital is small but our Curator has been receiving sick and injured frogs since August 1998. As of this writing, over 2,800 adult/subadult frogs have been turned in (plus dozens of toads and hundreds of thousands of tadpoles). Most of the injured frogs can be recovered and released back to the wild. Diseased frogs are another story, however.

For a long time after we started this facility, we were the only dedicated effort to rescue and research frog health problems. Over the past few years however, we've noticed that there are a smattering of individuals and a few vet clinics that have clients bringing in frogs. There have been a few media stories of vet's attempting surgeries on injured frogs but we suspect that pathogens and parasites might still remain unnoticed. But the tide is starting to turn and sick frogs are everywhere - so wildlife groups and vets are slowly being coerced into having to deal with a growing tide of little animals that need help. We don't know if it is still accurate to say we're the only dedicated frog rescue effort but we are certainly the longest established and most experienced.

What we receive ranges from parasite infestations, protozoal overgrowths, flesh-eating disorders and other soil diseases, bacterial infections including Strep, Staph and Pseudomonas, malformations, cancers and, of course, the usual range of injuries. Some of these cases are now popping up in other parts of the country (including malformations) but we are here in Cairns so it is difficult to get positive ID's on frogs which are interstate.

Tadpoles can be rescued from dwindling puddles, photographed, identified and then released at targeted sites to boost local frog populations. However, we don't rescue tadpoles from around Cairns very much anymore because the runoff is too contaminated and inevitably, the vast majority of rescued tadpoles don't survive or are malformed. Rescues can also be carried out on properties where the resident frogs are at risk from hostile residents or their neighbours (believe it or not, some people despise and/or fear frogs and, rather than leave them to cruel eradication methods, we remove the frogs and relocate them to friendlier surroundings).

Caring for injured frogs seems a simple idea at first but it is a very different process from other types of animals (such as birds, macropods, bats, etc.) which are normally handled by wildlife rescue groups. For a start, there has been a significant problem with amphibian diseases in recent years and this threat to frog populations is spreading. There are distance restrictions on the release of frogs which are ready to return to the wild and release can be complicated by the need to verify that the species actually exists at the intended release site (which can be difficult outside the breeding season).

What also makes frogs different from other rescued wildlife is that, while information and care techniques have been tried, tested and published for most animal types, this is not yet so for amphibians. Even a search of the internet will not provide sufficient information to help you get started as a frog carer or to treat frogs in a vet clinic. So one of the roles the Cairns Frog Hospital also hopes to play is to learn and document what the best treatments are for various conditions and to publish that information so that others can use it to help frogs.

Things change rapidly when it comes to frog health - both in the active pathogens which plague them and finding what treatments will work. We are putting alternative medicines to much greater use in recovering frogs. So far, the results are very promising with much better outcomes than when we have used veterinary drugs.

On the research side of things, there are huge opportunities for research projects and especially in the field of eco-toxicology. What is happening to this region's coastal frogs only started suddenly in 1997 and is almost certainly related to chemical use. However, financing toxicology has not attracted any political will in recent years. Perhaps the bottom line is that since frogs don't pay taxes, why bother to spend money to save them.

updated: July 4th, 2016