A video of a screaming cape rain frog encountered near Cape Town, South Africa, is drawing amusement as it makes its way around the Internet—but experts say the footage clearly shows a frog in distress.
Simon Van Nierop, who captured the video, was taking a walk with his children and dogs in the Tokai Forest in Table Mountain National Park when they heard high-pitched screaming. They traced it to a yellow and black, puffed up cape rain frog, a species endemic to South Africa's Western Cape and listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List.
The footage Van Nierop took is billed as "hilarious," but not everyone agrees that it's funny.
“I find it sad, not hilarious,” says Jill Goldman, a private animal behavior therapist. “I think people are drawn to videos that look funny when they don’t really understand why the animal is doing what [it's] doing.” (See: "People Are Scaring Their Cats With Cucumbers. They Shouldn’t.")
“Notice how the frog is backing up, trying to escape,” Alan Channing, an emeritus professor at the University of the Western Cape who's written several books about frogs, says in an email. Channing, who has studied frogs in the wild for years, says he's certain the frog was making the noise and puffing up its body to scare away potential threats.
Van Nierop, who owns a business that rents flooring to events around Cape Town, says the frog was already screaming when he and his family found it, adding that he restrained his own dogs as well as other dogs along the trail to protect the frog.
According to Carrie Freeman, a communications professor at Georgia State University who co-created animalsandmedia.org, videos and photos of unusual animals can help efforts to protect the animal by drawing attention to an otherwise unknown species. “If you have an animal protection mission, you can use this for your cause,” she says. On the other hand, “if people just see it and say that it’s cute, it could be counterproductive.”
For instance, though all nine species of slow loris are threatened with extinction in large part because of the illegal pet trade, Internet videos showing them being tickled or fed rice balls have fueled their demand as pets. But experts counter that the videos reveal poorly cared for, distressed animals.
The cape rain frog is threatened primarily by habitat loss. Though it has adapted to pine plantation habitats like Tokai (which is being cleared to bring back native fynbos heathland), agricultural and urban expansion have contributed to their continued decline.
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