As a part of Zoocheck’s investigation into the disturbing Frogs-in-a-box I posed as a potential customer in two stores selling the frog boxes in Toronto. I went with the intention of assessing the level of knowledge among the staff who sell and care for these frogs. Prior to my visits I did a lot of research regarding the natural biology, behaviour and lifestyles of dwarf African clawed frogs, as well as on their captive husbandry and care.
The first store I entered was a popular children’s toy and book store. Lined up on a shelf I found 7 or 8 of the frog boxes near the front. I instantly noticed the algae coated tanks and wondered how long it had been since their water was changed. A laminated sign hung from the shelf warning of the dangers of Salmonella contamination (probably a good idea in a children’s store with the frogs being located at about chest height).
I found the “resident frog expert” as she referred to herself and started asking questions. Her knowledge on how to care for the frogs was limited. She didn’t know they were nocturnal, if they were male or female, where they were bred (incorrectly telling me they were born and raised in Canada), what they can eat other than the manufactured frog food that comes with the kit, or how big they grow. Basically, she wasn’t aware of the frog's requirements beyond what she had read on the written material that accompanied the frogs. The store’s care schedule was feeding them twice a week, and never changing their water. I was told they rarely last three months in the store before being purchased.
The second store I visited was a novelty gift store. This time the frogs were displayed much higher, out of reach of children, and the tanks were much cleaner –although there was no warning about the dangers of Salmonella contamination anywhere. As I started asking questions again, I realized this store owner knew a little bit more about dwarf African clawed frogs, and was more diligent about changing the water in the tanks in comparison to the kids toy store. Despite this, he too was quick to rattle off the erroneous care instructions that came with the frogs. He admitted that despite being told to only feed the frogs two pellets each twice a week, he usually put more in as he found the more dominate frog of the two often ate all the food, leaving the other to starve. Instead of changing the water every three months as advised, he changed them every other month. Ill-advisedly, he was under the impression that these frogs prefer their cramped quarters, stating that even if they were in a larger tank they would be traumatized by it and would hide in the corner. Another customer over heard this and in disbelief questioned him “what if they were in a big tank that had lots of stuff in it?” Again he persisted in his nonsensical claim that this would traumatize the frogs, adding that the energy it would take to swim to the top of the tank to breath would be too demanding for them. In this case, he is partly right; a very tall tank would be too demanding on these little guys, who have to swim to the surface quite frequently to breathe, but large shallow tanks do exist, and more room for any captive animal is always preferable. Furthermore, maintaining stable water chemistry is always easier with a larger quantity of water, which is important to consider given the frogs sensitive skin.
I got the impression that both of these store workers had good intentions for the frogs. Both were owners of their own tanks, and spoke fondly of their pets. Sadly, like other well-intentioned consumers however, they just accepted the care recommendations that came with the frogs as truthful and adequate. It only takes a little bit of time with our reliable friend Google, or even hitting up your local library, to learn what kind of care dwarf African clawed frogs really need and deserve. Once educated on their care and natural history, it’s easy to spot the severe short-comings evident in the care and habitat provided for these doomed frogs.
Zoocheck has sent out letters expressing its concerns about the frog boxes to retailers currently selling them in Ontario. An outline of the actual needs required by this particular frog species to be kept safely and humanely in captivity - as endorsed by amphibian experts - has also been included, along with a health advisory statement regarding the very real threat of Salmonella contamination linked to these frogs. Hopefully with a little more awareness these retailers will recognize the risks and cruelty associated with frogs-in-a-box and pull them from their shelves.