It is the dirty little secrete of the poison dart frog hobby—the origin of some of the most prized and in demand species are linked to illegal activity that harms wild frog populations.
The Colombian NGO ProAves, which focuses on bird conservation and habitat protection, has been the most recent to receive reports of foreigners paying local communities to illegally collect large Oophaga species in its forests. In many dart frog hobbyist’s eyes these large obligate egg-feeders are the showpiece of their collection, the rarest of the rare. Though there are now legal and ethical means to acquire these species through Tesoros de Colombia Sustainable Farm and WIKIRI (the second based in Ecuador rather than Colombia) it seems unscrupulous frog peddlers are still finding it profitable to smuggle new frogs out, which they will continue to do so long as there are buyers.
How do you know if the dart frogs you are buying are legal and come from an honest source? The good news is that many commonly available dart frogs have been bred in captivity for numerous generations and those established for decades are usually going to be kosher. These are the frogs you fill find most often sold from reputable vendors.
New species or color morphs from new localities are what you need to watch for. While the newest frog for sale on the vendor’s table or in that Facebook classified ad may be what you have been dreaming of keeping for years, before you buy ask where the frogs came from. Note that captive-bred is not good enough. A frequent route that smuggled frogs enter the U.S. is through Europe, where unethically sourced founding stock is then labelled as captive-bred (or in some cases bred to the first or second generation) and then exported legally to the States, essentially laundering smuggled frogs into the hobby. When buying new frogs, never hesitate to ask where founding stock originated, which import, and when. If the seller cannot answer the question or the new frogs did not come from an ethical or sustainable source, don’t buy them. Simple as that.