On the Hunt for the Elusive Coquí (in Hawaii)


Carolyn Lucas-Zenk (West Hawaii Today) writes about Vickie Kibler of the Kalaoa Coqui Patrol and her efforts to tackle the “infestation” of coquí frogs in Hawaii. In spite of all we have posted here on invasive species, such as the lionfish, when I read this article, my gut silently shrieked, “No-o-o-o-o-o!” It is difficult to believe (and accept) that our beloved coquí—symbol of the enduring Puerto Rican spirit of independence (yes, I must re-read María Acosta Cruz’s Dream Nation: Puerto Rican Culture and the Fictions of Independence)—which is quickly becoming an endangered species at home (due to excess use of pesticides and deforestation, among others reasons), is simply a pest in Hawaii, one that quickly devours pollinating insects, affecting the delicate island ecosystems there.

Furthermore, the song of the coquí, a lullaby to the Puerto Rican diaspora (if I can speak for countless others like me) is, apparently, a maddening, loathsome sound for many who remain sleepless in Hawaii. I have to admit that I am one of those eternally homesick people who bought a coquí soundtrack (and it serves as a background to my voicemail message at work!) so, as open minded as I tried to be as I read this article, I still shuddered to think of the many coquís that are being frozen or killed with citric acid and baking soda. My inner-child whines, “Can’t they simply be shipped back to Puerto Rico, their island of origin?” 

Flashlight in mouth, Kona resident Vickie Kibler illuminated a ti plant. Seconds before, she heard “ko-KEE-ko-KEE-ko-KEE” — distinct tones of a male coqui in the area. After searching the rock wall and bromeliads below, Kibler narrowed the small brown tree frog’s location to the palm-like shrub. With one hand, she bent the woody stem toward her, and with her other hand, slowly began pulling back and carefully inspecting the leaves. Hunting these nocturnal coqui takes time and patience. [. . .] This was among the dozen coqui caught that night by Kibler, Greenbaum and volunteer Chris Christenson. All the frogs were stored in a freezer for at least 48 hours and then discarded.

Kibler is the founder of Kalaoa Coqui Patrol, a volunteer group started four years ago. At the time, there was a house at the bottom of Loloa Drive that was commonly referred to as “Little Hilo” because it was infested with the frogs, of which the males emitted loud, echoing calls to attract females and fend off others. Determined to do something about the infestation and prevent this invasive species, native to Puerto Rico, from spreading, Kibler collected donations from 20 neighbors to purchase the needed equipment to be effective. She spent a couple thousand dollars to get an industrial-grade sprayer, a 24-gallon sprayer, and two hand-held modified blowers. These machines are used to dispense baking soda and citric acid. The collective was supposed to work like this: Homeowners would call Kibler to borrow the equipment when coqui were discovered on their property, use it for treatment, and then return it. Instead, Kibler just gets phone calls and emails daily from those needing coqui removal.

Three days a week for two to three hours in the evening, Kibler scours yards in the Kona Coastview, Wonderview, Highlands and Palisades subdivisions, with property owner permission, voluntarily hand capturing and killing coqui frogs. [. . .] Kibler is often contacted by people who live outside the North Kona areas she’s concentrating on. She tries her best to link them up with other groups leading similar coqui control efforts and direct them to the numerous resources available to tackle the problem on their own. Kibler also encourages them to start their own collective or volunteer with one. Occasionally, she makes presentations to share her knowledge.

The biggest hurdle, Kibler said, is educating the public about the coqui and how destructive they are to the island. “Our ecosystem is based on checks and balances. Since there are no natural enemies in Hawaii to the coqui frog, there is no way to keep their population in check,” she said. “Without that balance, they are eating important nutrient and pollinating insects at an alarming rate. In some areas, populations may exceed 10,000 frogs per acre, which consume more than 50,000 insects per night. This is an endangerment to native Hawaiian insect populations, including the plant pollinators, and it is causing a direct competition with Hawaii’s native birds. The studies also show that due to their reproduction rate, the coqui may serve as an energy sink in native ecosystems where they serve as an additional food source enhancing population levels of rats and mongoose, thereby increasing predation pressure on native forest birds.”

For more information or to get involved, email vtravel@hawaiiantel.net.

For full article, see http://m.westhawaiitoday.com/news/local-news/hunt-elusive-coqui-frog

See photo above and listed to the coquí song here: http://www.to-hawaii.com/forums/Thread-Coqui-frogs-on-the-Big-Island

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