How do you go about finding something that’s been lost for 120 years?
That’s the question facing scientists in the field near the city of Douala, Cameroon, on the hunt for Schneider’s banana frog (Afrixalus schneideri).
The species hasn’t been seen in the wild since 1889 – the same year as the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower and the founding of The Coca-Cola Co. But it might still be out there, tucked away in a patch of forest. So, scientists are in the field searching for this rare creature as part of the Search for the Lost Frogs.
On a hunt for lost frogs, encountering a rich history. Sometimes, you go looking for a frog and end up taking in a little bit of history, too. Or, at least, that’s been the experience of the Lost Frogs team in Douala.
Today, Douala is the largest, wealthiest city in Cameroon, a fast-paced economic hub of 3 million people on the banks of the Gulf of Guinea. At the start of the 20th century, though, the city was a German colony known as Kamerunstadt (“Cameroon City”). Germans ruled over the indigenous people of the city, including the influential and affluent Duala ethnic group.
Exactly 100 years ago, German authorities decided to disrupt that balance. They demanded that the Duala, major land-owners in Kamerunstadt, give up their property and move inland. Not surprisingly, this decision proved unpopular – and it led to resistance by the Duala king, Rudolf Duala Manga Bell.
With World War I looming, however, the Germans would harbor no dissent – not even from King Manga Bell, who traditionally had worked with colonial authorities. He was hanged for treason in 1914.
How is this relevant to the Search for the Lost Frogs?
As it turns out, scientists in Cameroon began their search by heading to the palace of King Manga Bell’s grandson, Prince Douala Manga Bell. The prince gave the scientists a lesson on the history of his land – land that scientists believe could be home to any existing specimens of Schneider’s banana frog.
(As if searching for a frog that hasn’t been seen in 12 decades weren’t interesting enough on its own!)
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Until next time,
Header Photo: Sorry, this is not Schneider’s banana frog (Afrixalus schneideri) but the Cameroon toad (Bufo superciliaris) © Piotr Nasrecki