Get up-close and personal with The Secret Life of Frogs as award winning wildlife film makers Ajay and Vijay Bedi take you through the swampy forests of India on Animal Planet and Animal Planet HD World.
Q What intrigued you both to make a documentary on frogs?
We've been making films on the bigger animals like the tiger, elephants and other bigger animals but this time when we were looking for a subject to make another film, we came across frogs. While doing the research which is one of the basic things to do to start a film, we found out that there is not much known about frogs in India. At the same time there was a new discovery about frogs which were discovered. During the research we also came across that people just knew basic knowledge of frogs, that they come out during rains, they are small and that's it. People didn't know that other side of frogs which is very unique. Specially a few frogs which are almost as old as dinosaurs. So, we thought there could be more to just jumping frogs or fairy tales of frogs which we used to read in our school books or in poems. I would especially like to quote the purple frog because purple frog comes just for a few days to mate and they basically spend their entire life under ground. We thought this would be great to get this animal on camera and show the world what the animal does. Infact, we were lucky to film the entire breeding behaviour of this frog for the 1st time ever.
Q The documentary was shot in a span of three years. What took it so long?
The challenges were many because while doing a research when we initially went to the location, we were already late. We could see the tadpoles already there. So, the 1st year was almost late as there was not enough information and the second time when we went early expecting monsoon, there was no monsoon. It was a big news that there was no monsoon in India. Monsoon was delayed and there was less monsoon and the purple frogs never came out. At that very moment we were in 2 minds that whether we should go for this subject or not and we just cannot make a film without the frogs or having some kind of behavior. We didn't want the frogs to be just sitting and looking at the camera. Even in the case of bigger animal we just don't want tigers to sit and look at the camera, and we wanted certain behavior. So then for the 3rd year we went much early and we were lucky to get the sequence which we were not able to get earlier on. At the same time, we thought that this would be an easier subject to film, but it turned out really difficult. Incase of tigers and elephants and other animals you have a position of sitting and standing and doing your shots but when we talk about frogs filming at eye level, that means you are actually lying down straight on the ground and filming, which is not easy for sure. Plus, the rains and the environment play a huge role. When we talk about frogs the first thing that comes in your mind is night, rain and water. So, one has to be lying down in water and just waiting for the frogs to do their bit which was quite difficult. It was challenging, it's very difficult to shoot them or even observe them and one needs to be very attentive. We had to be fully focused on frogs because observing them was so difficult, if we missed they would just jump and vanish very quickly.
Q What are the kind of preparations you had to undertake before going out in search of these amphibians?
The research was intense in a sense that, as I said earlier, we really had to prepare ourselves to understand the animal itself. Firstly, even the scientists knew the animal but probably didn't know much about them. We really had to understand from the scientists as to what kind of behavior can we expect from the frogs, where we can find them, etc. When we talk about purple frog, there's no specific area to find it. When it comes from the ground you never know where they will be coming out from. It's just observing their sound and calls underground and monitoring the calls. For tigers, elephants and other animals, they lie on your sight and we spot them. But the purple frog and even for the other frogs you have to open your ears and listen to them and track their movements and you get to know that they are getting closer to the underground. Secondly, the frogs were very sensitive to light, as soon as you switch on the lights they will stop performing and will just stare. So there needs to be access to red light to get used to frogs' behavior and once they got familiar, we started filming.
Q Talk in depth about the rare purple frog and why it's an endangered species.
They are very few in numbers and they don't breed like other frogs. They come out just for a few days and there are very few numbers of female purple frogs in comparison to males. It becomes more difficult for them to survive because once they lay eggs, totally depending on their nature, the off springs come out. There are many other factors like the deforestation and the status of the purple frog is under the IUCN, it's called the endangered tribe and its threatened by deforestation from expanding cultivation. Also, in addition to the consumption and harvesting of local communities. Even the tadpoles of purple frog are harvested by the local communities and eaten. Little is known about the species, it is very important because not much is known and it's a new species that's been discovered. Specialized breeding and biology makes it vulnerable to its habitat.
Q What would be that one favorite moment in the entire journey of filming and why?
It would be difficult to pin point one such situation because every frog which we filmed was unique. While filming them, we were lucky enough to film a behavior which was not filmed before and was filmed for the 1st time ever. The entire breeding behavior of purple frog is very beautiful. If you look at the purple frog, it is a very funny looking animal. It's unlike a frog and more like a bigger ball with smaller feet and hands and actually more like a water balloon. Once it starts moving with its body like a water balloon, you can imagine of how a water balloon moves on the ground when its thrown.
The Kumbara night frog, which is also known as the ‘Nyctibatrachuskumbara’ (scientific term), which we called the potter frog because we observed that once they lay the eggs, they cover the eggs with mud. The whole process of covering the eggs with mud is so beautiful and so gentle that one should really witness it. He sits in the water and dips both his hands and then he stands on its hind legs, positions himself to put the mud on the eggs. It's so gentle that we have filmed it in slow motion and it's so beautiful to see how gentle they are in putting the
mud and this is done to protect the eggs from predation, a strategy to protect their eggs from predators.
Q Do you think species like these are not given much attention to and thus are more prone to extinction?
Yes, it's very true. I would say that the Indian conservation policies focuses on the Indian cats, the bigger cats and mammals and its high time that they should start considering these smaller species as well because smaller species play a very important role in the whole eco system. If we talk about frogs, they are very important to us and the eco system and there is an urgent need to conserve them. Frogs populations have been declining worldwide at a very alarming rate. Nearly one third of the worlds' amphibian species are threatened because of various reasons and I guess upto 200 species have completely disappeared since 1980, which is not normal to be precise. The population is facing environmental problems, pollution, infections, diseases, habitat loss, climate change.
Q What are the present conditions that are posing a threat to these amphibians?
If you talk about purple frog, deforestation is causing a major habitat loss and even the construction of dams. We are working closely with many scientists and they quote that construction of dams and even leveling and narrowing of land to expand plantation are major reasons that's affecting the survival of purple frogs. The tadpoles of purple frogs are very important and for them the water straits are the lifeline. If the water channel is affected in anyway by construction of dams or even changing their actions of river or even plantation of trees or crops alongside river and streams, they will affect these tadpoles which will indirectly affect the population of frogs.