BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – I received yet another call from someone distressed about coqui tree frog on her property. No, she wasn’t wanting to find out how to kill the frog. She was trying to find out how to keep it and resist aggressive neighbors wanting the frog destroyed.
For many people in Hawaii, as in Puerto Rico, the coqui frog is considered an adorable creature, singing at night and improving the environment by eating insect pests. They can get loud in large numbers, but for those who enjoy the sounds of wildlife, the coqui chirp is soothing and creates a white noise that aids sleep. In fact, many people from Puerto Rico, where the coqui is considered the national animal and is honored in folklore and legend, take recordings of coquis with them while traveling to sleep better.
However, the Hawaii government has passed laws to vilify coqui frogs as a noisy environmental menace, making it illegal to “harbor” or transport coquis within the state. According to the law, coquis frogs are pests by definition, and anyone enjoying them does so at his own peril. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to stop the spread of the frogs, which now reside happily on the Big Island’s east side and in limited areas of the other islands.
Of course, if the coqui frogs were native to Hawaii, they would be protected, not killed. The sound would be appreciated and promoted, as it is in Puerto Rico.
However, in today’s Hawaii, only native species are valued. Introduced species are now regarded as illegal aliens, and harboring these aliens is against the law. Laws defining the coqui as a “pest” allow the cruel slaughter of these tiny, harmless creatures, bypassing humane treatment laws.
The Good Shepherd Foundation, of which I am the director, believes that cruelty to animals is unacceptable, regardless of whether the animals are native or not. In 2001 we started a program to counter the anti-coqui propaganda, called CHIRP, or the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project. We became the voice of the coqui, calling for tolerance and appreciation of this newcomer to Hawaii, especially since the government admitted that the frogs were here to stay. Acceptance, we believe, is better than an endless environmental war against the frogs.
Over the years we have been contacted by many residents who found the frogs adorable and desirable on their property, but who were being harassed by neighbors who did not yet have the frogs and wanted them eradicated. This meant having one’s property sprayed with citric acid, which kills plants as well as coquis, lizards, insects, and other nontarget species. The acid burns the victims to death.
Vigilante groups armed with government provided sprayers comb neighborhoods in search of frogs, like lynch mobs out for blood, listening for the telltale “ko-kee” call of the male frog. Anti-coqui hysteria has infected the government and many residents, making others fearful of admitting they like the coquis. Those lucky enough to have coquis move onto their property are faced with the unfortunate choices of harassment, or letting eradicators poison their property.
Some residents would like to remove the coquis to avoid the drama, but don’t want to kill the coquis in the process. These humane minded people are faced with another dilemma. Moving coquis is a crime. The government has made it so people can only kill coquis, either with citric acid or by cooking or freezing the live frogs. You can’t catch the frogs and release them somewhere else where there are other frogs.
This means the Hawaii government has made it illegal to treat the coquis humanely. It forces residents to either be cruel to the frogs, or to break the law and illegally release the frogs elsewhere, which many people do.
The most recent phone call was from a woman who wanted to save the lone coqui on her property from a certain death. A neighbor heard the frog and reported it to the homeowner’s association, which was dispatching an eradicator right away. The neighbor also complained that this same woman was feeding non-native birds, and threatened to have the birds shot.
For those who love wildlife, Hawaii is no longer a paradise. Species are not valued for their beauty and other positive qualities, or for the biological diversity they bring to these volcanic islands. Instead, they are valued solely for being “native”, and are killed solely for being introduced.
It is a war on wildlife. Property owners, residents, and visitors who value wildlife for what it is, regardless of whether or not it was introduced, are victims of this war.
To learn more about the Hawaiian coqui, including the politically motivated and corrupted war against these innocent creatures, go to www.HawaiianCoqui.org.