Turkish authorities have cracked down on a massive wildlife poaching ring that was smuggling some unlikely creatures—frogs.
“We just released the frogs back to nature because they were caught without permission and outside permitted hunting areas," says Hasan Huseyin Dogancay, head of the livestock agency in Gulsehir, Turkey, according to the country's state-run news Anadolu Agency.
Roughly 7,500 of the common water frogs were found by agents in a routine search of a minibus passing through the region—the largest haul Dogancay says he has ever seen. As Kareem Shaheen reports for the Guardian, the five men arrested with the frogs admitted that they had caught them in the basin of the Kizilirmak River, Turkey's longest. The men were arrested while attempting to transport the creatures to the country's southern coast where they could be sold to be shipped overseas, reports the Daily Sabah.
Frogs are not commonly found in Turkish cuisine, but in recent years the country has begun shipping large quantities of the animals to places in western Europe, such as France, where they are considered a delicacy, Worldbulletin News reported last year. However, Turkey has taken pains to control the trade, issuing licenses to certain hunters who are only allowed to collect certain species during certain times of the year, Shaheen. Yet many people attempt to circumvent the expense and restrictions by illegally poaching the creatures.
Frogs worldwide have faced dire straits in recent years from habitat loss and the specter of a deadly fungal disease that's hit species globally. Frogs in Turkey have not yet been reported to suffer from the fungus, but many amphibian species there are considered endangered due to habitat loss and hunting, herpetologists noted in a report in 2015. Frogs fill a vital ecological niche as the consumers of many insects and as a food source for larger animals.
The 7,500 poached frogs in this situation get to return to that niche. Authorities have already returned them to the wild to live out their froggy lives.