Germans declare a new war on frog foreigners

Steve Crawshaw
Monday 05 April 1993 23:02

FROGS and politics are not a familiar pairing. In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, however, the American bullfrog has, together with a number of other exotic amphibians, been declared an unwelcome alien.

The state's environment minister, Klaus Matthiesen, yesterday 'urgently appealed' to North Rhine- Westphalian pond-owners to keep non-German species out.

The minister singled out for condemnation, in addition to the bullfrogs, the orange-bellied and brown- backed North American rough- skinned newts, and the fire-breasted and sword-tailed newts. 'In no circumstances,' said Mr Matthiesen yesterday, should these foreign species be kept in local ponds. Some of the foreigners were accused of 'exterminating' the locals. At the very least, bullfrogs and other aliens could 'displace and alter our native fauna'.

If the problem, on this occasion, is the presence of foreign frogs, even born-and-bred German frogs have caused trouble in the past. As far back as 1910, a German court passed an anti-frog judgment after a neighbour complained of excessive noise. The court acknowledged that the 'song emitted by the frogs' was a 'foreseeable consequence' of owning a pond. If the pond was natural, frogs were therefore permissible; if - as in the case before the court - the pond was artificial, then it was the duty of the pro-frog pond-owner to avoid any disturbance to his neighbour.

More recently, too - as chronicled in Dear Neighbour, a German book devoted entirely to issuing warnings of the legal difficulties that gardeners may get into - the German anti-frog lobby has frequently taken its concerns to court. One district court acknowledged that the frogs in a garden pond were, indeed, very noisy (an expert was sent to measure the decibels). But the court deemed that the plaintiff had no right to complain, since he had moved into the village only recently and should therefore have expected miscellaneous animal noises in his new home. The plaintiff appealed.

In a separate case, a regional court argued that frog noises were unacceptable, and must be eradicated by whatever means were necessary.

Thus, the American bullfrogs and the fire-breasted newts can take comfort from the fact that it is not only outsiders who are officially condemned. But nobody should treat lightly the idea of defying the law, by releasing a foreign frog or newt into the German wild. The environment ministry in Dusseldorf yesterday emphasised that this crime could be punished with a fine of up to 100,000 marks (pounds 42,000).

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