Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Some people's noise...

is other people's song.

Apparently, the good people of Maui, Hawaii are all in an uproar about the "annoying screech" of the coqui frog (according to USA Today), because as everyone must surely know, "swarms of coqui frogs... can drive reasonable adults mad." SWAT teams of neighbors band together to go annihilate the evil creatures, and even the state has gotten into the spirit of the hunt:

Nowadays, the invasion has reached the point that, in January, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim told the state Legislature his county should be declared in a “state of emergency” because of the frogs. Although Maui hasn’t reached that crisis level, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa has asked the Legislature for $2 million to help get rid of the frogs here while it’s still possible. That’s in addition to $450,000 that the county grants to MISC to attack alien species in general. (Maui News, April 10)

Money well spent, I'm sure the Tylenol-popping, earplug-using, sleep-deprived Maui residents would say. After all, continues Maui News reporter Valerie Monson, "[t]he story of the coqui frogs illustrates in horror-movie fashion how an alien species that looks as harmless as a fly can have entire communities in an uproar in less than 10 years."

Don't these people and this reporter have anything better to do?

On the upside though, the frogs have provided an incentive for neighbors to unite against the common threat of declining property values, invading alien animals, and incessant loud screeching. There are even meetings on the subject, to get on record the expert opinion of the frog-squad's most prominent (and promoted) member, Bob Flint. (I kid you not; here are the minutes of one such meeting). And the state government has even created an anti-coqui site (another example of money well spent), which gives several hotline numbers, an online reporting form, and a stern warning about the dire consequences of being caught with a coqui.

But there are dissenters among the throngs of frog-haters. CHIRP (the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project) has launched its own website, which includes a recording of coqui song (so you can judge for yourself) and an online form to protest the use of tax dollars to fund the coqui eradication campaign.

Of course, in the other side of the US, in the Atlantic Ocean, the coqui's "annoying screech" is actually considered a treat. In Puerto Rico, the coqui's native land, residents so admire the little frogs that the coqui has become the beloved national symbol. Legend even had it (erroneously, to the despair of the aforementioned Hawaiian residents) that a transplanted coqui would die of grief if ever taken from its homeland...

In Puerto Rico, there are coqui magnets, squeaky toys, plush toys, ornaments, brooches... cartoon coqui frogs decorate tourism company billboards, as well as the ubiquitous towels, t-shirts, glasses, and other assorted souvenirs. And the fact that coqui song is slowly fading away from (human) overpopulation is received with sadness, not viewed with exultant relief. That's how invested the people of Puerto Rico are in the fate of these harmless, tiny, loud-voiced tropical tree frogs.

I should know. I live here.

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