The Story of FATS
In the beginning there was no FATS-but in 1992 that changed. FATS (or the Frog and Tadpole Study Group) is a much-loved and versatile group. It budded off the Australian Herpetological Society (or AHS), which was a group of mad-keen reptile and frog lovers. In the early years, this group was totally dominated by the reptile enthusiasts and the froggers found that they could get little attention or floor space to discuss frog matters. As so it transpired, that the froggers in the group began holding their own meetings after the AHS meetings. As time went on, it became apparent that there was more than a little interest in frogs and in 1991, Harald Ehmann raised the possibility of creating a frog interest group. From this idea, FATS was spawned.
The first official meeting of FATS was held at Sydney Technical College (now the University of Technology) at Ultimo on the 10th of December 1991. Nine hardy souls attended that meeting (but there were 15 apologies). The core of the initial FATS group was Harald Ehmann (First president), Lothar Voigt, Martyn Robinson, Steve Kum-Jew, Karen Thumm, David Millar, Danny Wotherspoon, Shane Gow, and Arthur White. The early meetings were heavily devoted to the new legislation concerning threatened and endangered frogs. A Private Members Bill had been upheld in parliament that meant that frogs were now legally acknowledged as animals in New South Wales and that the conservation status of many species needed to be resolved. Various members of FATS made submissions to the State Government regarding the apparent abundance of certain frog species- the combined input from the frogging community formed the basis for the initial determination of the threatened and endangered frogs in this state.
It was during these early years that some major differences emerged between the fledgling FATS group and the AHS. Most of the members of the AHS at the time were lizard and snake keepers, and the major topics at meetings were matters relating to reptile husbandry, such as breeding, disease treatment and cage designs and captive requirements of different species. FATS chose to not to be focused on the keeping of frogs, but instead, on helping to add to the collective scientific knowledge of frogs as well as broadcasting the decline of frogs to the wider community.
With frog conservation as a main aim, it should come as no surprise when Harald Ehmann proposed in late 1992 that FATS should become a major player in providing reliable field data for the better determination of the conservation status of frogs in New South Wales. In order to do this, every frogger in New South Wales would be contacted and asked to participate in field surveys or to provide current field data from sites that they were familiar with. This would require considerable co-ordination and Harald agreed to take it on. This project was going to require some funding and so Harald and Lothar Voigt set about seeking grant money to help defray field costs. The field surveys began in earnest in December 1992 despite the lack of a grant, but in 1993, the Commonwealth Government (under the National Estate Grants Program) decided to put money into the project (called ENDFROGS).
It was primarily through the massive undertaking that FATS spread its tentacles throughout the herpetological community in New South Wales. There were detractors who said that this was a waste of money; there were even academic detractors who said that FATS were not capable of carrying out the surveys, there were many who said that it could not be done with the small amount of grant money available.
For two and a half years the field surveys continued, some involved groups of up to 20 people while many involved just one or two people driving out to some remote swamp or creek on a wet and wild night to count frogs. Throughout this time, Harald (who had now moved to Adelaide) continued to co-ordinate the project.
Because Harald had overseen the influx of surveys and field data, it seemed most appropriate that Harald should collate the publications of these surveys. Despite his heavy workload and distance from the scene of this activity Harald agreed to do it. The principal frog workers for the 25 species that were targeted were contacted, provided with the field data and given a proforma to follow so that they could prepare the various chapters of “Threatened Frogs of New South Wales: habitats, status and conservation”.
The ENDFROG book was published in 1997 and for more than ten years was the only reference book for rare and endangered frogs in this state. The information in the book affected state government policy about the correct listing of species, and provided advice about the best way to assist the recovery of each species. This was truly a landmark publication for Australian froggers (and for FATS).
The number of people attending FATS meetings steadily grew and by July 1993 the meetings moved from Ultimo to the Australian Museum (in the Peppermint Room). The Australian Museum was to be the host of the FATS meetings until October 2005 when FATS moved to Newington. The change in location was brought about by increasing difficulties in using the Museum’s lecture theatre (which was now the only room large enough to accommodate FATS crowds), the increasing number of members from greater Sydney and possibility of expanding even more in this new location. A major relocation is not without risk and some of our long-term froggers from the inner city were inconvenienced by the move. However, a whole new group of frog-lovers were able to attend meetings and so FATS has continued to flourish.
Monica and FrogCall
In 1994, a new face appeared on the scene, Monica Wangmann. Monica began attending the FATS meetings, dragging her 6 year old daughter Katherine along. Monica reveled in the frog activities and soon put her hand up to be on the executive. One of the jobs that she was keen to do was the newsletter, which up till now was rather dull and read like a set of minutes from a meeting. Monica was aware that many people who could not make it to the meetings needed to be given readable and current news items about frogs. She quickly revolutionized FrogCall into a meaty newsletter that came out every two months. Monica took over at Issue No. 28 and is still the editor today at Issue 100. There is no doubt that FATS has maintained an active role in the wider community because of Monica and how she has turned FrogCall into an information bulletin that people want to read. Most of the early editions of FrogCall were literally cut and paste (i.e. taking a pair of scissors to a magazine or newspaper that had a good frog story in it). Monica still trawls the press for news items and is assisted by many folk who send stories or find articles, pictures or anecdotes to add to the mix that is FrogCall.
In 1995 Lothar Voigt took over as President from Harald Ehmann. Lothar, in his mercurial way, set out to make FATS a household name. To do this, FATS needed to be seen and heard. Lothar started contacting schools, local councils, community groups, in fact anyone who would listen to him. Did they have frogs in their garden, did they want to learn about frogs, did they know about the global decline of frogs? Lothar arranged FATs to have stalls at the Easter Show, to do workshops at Council community days, to do displays at fairs, carnivals or at local parks. Fats was on the move.
Lothar remained as President for one year and was succeeded by Martyn Robinson. This move allowed Lothar to spend even more time on frog displays and community presentations, as well as letting loose his pent up need to write. Those of us who remember the old issues of FrogCall will undoubtedly remember the adventures of Claude the Frog.
Martyn acted as a temporary President until Frank Lemckert was able to take up the position. Frank was the antithesis of Lothar. Frank demanded adherence to the rules and ran a tight ship. All of this naturally meant nothing to Lothar who continued on his merry way, devising a myriad of frog cage designs from old broccoli boxes.
Frank was an important President as he imposed an order over Fats that was needed. Fats was no longer a dinky little group of frog-nuts. It had grown to become a widely respected conservation and frog advocacy group. This status required method, particularly with our accounting system and record keeping. Poor Frank. He was in charge of a group of loose cannons and struggled valiantly to maintain order and direction.
Frank Lemckert remained as President until 1999 when he was replaced by Arthur White. By this stage, FATS accounts were in good shape, thanks mainly to Karen White.
Karen who took control of the bank books in 1998. Her role has been so important that over the next ten years FATS shifted from having virtually no money, to being in a position where it could consider awarding student grants. FATS is financially sound and capable of undertaking projects that most other community groups could not.
When I took over a President, the initial problems were those of money (i.e. we had none). Without finances, we could not do many of the ventures that we wanted to be involved in. Opportunities to fund raise were sought at every opportunity- money was raised through raffles, through hiring frogs to film production companies, through paid TV and radio interviews and displays.
The big issue of the time was the identification of Chytrid as the big frog killer in Australia. The other issue was the fate of the many frogs that are accidental stowaways in produce trucks and trains. These frogs entered New South Wales from all parts of Australia and were obliged to be destroyed by quarantine officials. FATS started the Frog Rescue Service, after considerable discussion and consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture and Customs and Quarantine. In brief, the arrangement was that FATS could rescue stowaway frogs on the proviso that these frogs were quarantined (by FATS) for a minimum of 2 months; if the frogs showed signs of disease they were to be put down (especially if Chytrid was suspected), or treated if possible.
FATS became the first group to experiment with artificial control measures for Chytrid. A number of the rescued frogs were sick (some with Chytrid). Lothar and myself began trialing various fungicides and antiseptics on Chytrid-affected frogs.
In the early days we had many deaths. Eventually, we started to have some successes. Loyal FATS followers may remember the days when Toilet Duck (containing 2% benzalconium chloride) was used to treat all of our frogs and to sterile cages. Since then, more available antiseptics have been found that are effective against Chytrid, and ideal for husbandry use.
Frog Rescue Service
Over the years, the Frog Rescue Service has expanded and many people have acted as frog collectors, quarantine officers or have adopted a rescued frog. In 2000, the Frog Rescue Service handled almost 2000 frogs, many of them banana box frogs (Litoria gracilenta). Such a massive number of frogs required some other intervention and consultation began with the Queensland Banana Growers Association about way to reduce the numbers of frogs crossing the borders. The outcome was that the larger banana growers now do inspections of the hands of bananas before they are shipped and many of the frogs are retrieved while still at the plantations (where they can be released into the wild). Rescued frog numbers have declined greatly since this action came into effect but we still get 200-300 frogs each year through the service. One offshoot from the Frog Rescue Service has been the Cane Toad Alert Program- not only were frogs crossing the border but Cane Toads were hopping a ride as well FATS embarked on several community Cane Toad control programs (with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and local Councils).
You cant keep a good man down. With one of his spare moments Lothar decided that FATS could really knock the socks off the general public if we had a mobile display trailer for frogs. He brought his ideas to the executive meetings and began to prepare plans for the trailer. Eventually, the plans were unveiled. It was a bold design with fold out sides and slide out frog ponds. The cost was a big drawback so Lothar set out to find a sponsor, which he did. Osram Lights came to the party and funding the purchase and fitting of the trailer. For three years various FATS people spent time helping fit and refine the trailer, under Lothar’s watchful eye.
In 2005, the FrogMobile was unveiled and in 2006 it was busy at various venues about Sydney. Again, FATS members rallied to act as Frog Interpreters, or simply to help set up the FrogMobile at each site. The FrogMobile was so heavily used that a section of FrogCall was devoted to detail the locations where it had been and where it was going next. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of the work fell to Lothar who slaved himself to a standstill. While the FrogMobile was an attention-grabber, it was large, difficult to maneuver and required considerable set up time. These factors ultimately sealed the fate for the FrogMobile, for in 2007, when it was due for refurbishment, the decision was made not to spend more money on it. Lothar tried desperately over the next 12 months to find another backer and get financial support but this proved unsuccessful. So in 2008, we bade farewell to the FrogMobile; it was handed over to the RSPCA to be used as display trailer.
FATS has been involved in numerous activities since its inception. Many of you will remember the Green and Golden Bell frog rescue at Rosebery where FATS members demolished an old swimming pool and help fund and construct a custom-designed backyard frog pond to maintain these endangered frogs. Frog workshops are held every year and we continue to work with Councils and other Government agencies in the cause of frog conservation and education.
I have not mentioned a lot of people who have supported FATS over the years, such as Robert Wall our field trip coordinator and our many presenters at our meetings. For as long as FATS exists, I hope that it is always active and useful. I also know, that for FATS to achieve this, its members must continue to be generous with their time and help. It is only as a group that we seem to make a telling impact.