National Geographic : 1967 Jul
In Quest of the World's Largest Frog Article and photographs by PAUL A. ZAHL, Ph.D. Senior Natural Scientist, National Geographic Staff H IDDEN ON THE BANK by a curtain of lianas, I scanned the rain-swollen Mbia River as it tumbled over a rocky staircase. The total drop was no more than twenty feet, but the hiss and rumble of plunging water echoed along the gorge, and spray soaked every overhanging branch and vine. Abruptly my eyes stopped. On a mossy boulder halfway down the cascade I saw a dark form of startling proportions. It had a flat topped head and crouched on massive haunches. Drenched by mist, the thing was as wet as its rocky perch, and just as motionless. For minutes I made no move. Then a sudden flicker from what I fancied to be the creature's mouth provided a clue. This could only be goliath, the giant frog of the genus Conraua,snatching winged insects from the mist-laden air above the waterfall. Careful to make no hurried movement, I set my camera on a tri pod and fitted it with a bazooka-like telescopic lens. But as I focused, something, perhaps a glint of metal, betrayed my presence. In one sailing leap, the great amphibian dived into the current and was gone. Hope for a Capture Rests With Ond6 Several weeks earlier, in November, I had arrived in Bata, sea side capital of Rio Muni, a tiny Spanish province on Africa's equa torial west coast (map, page 149). Only here, and in neighboring Cameroon to the north, are giant frogs more than a myth. Reports of individuals nearly a yard long from nose to toe, and weighing more than seven pounds, had intrigued me for years. Now I had come to see them with my own eyes, hoping to bring back evidence that the species, though uncommon, is not threatened by extinction. But my initial feeling there by the river was one of frustration. 146 Vanquished king of frog dom hangs nearly half the length of its captor. Mo ments earlier this Conraua goliath crouched in the swirling cascade of a river draining the equatorial rain forest of Rio Muni (left), a Spanish province in western Africa. The giant frog fell prey to On d6, one of Rio Muni's Fang people, who snagged it with a fishhook dangled from a pole. Largest of the world's more than 250 true frog species, goliath dwells only in Rio Muni and its north ern neighbor, Cameroon. The Fangs call the over size amphibian Niamoa "mother's son"-because its size and limbs remind them of a small child. Shy, sharp-eyed, and quick to dive out of sight, the frogs escaped scientific discovery until 60 years ago. The author captured five goliaths to make these first published color photo graphs of the giants in their remote habitat. He was ad vised and guided by Span ish naturalist Jorge Saba ter Pi, Curator of the Barcelona Zoo's Animal Acclimatization Center at Bata, who has investigated these frogs for ten years and published several pa pers on the subject.