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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Precious Wonder

Air Date: Week of

Producer Tom Lopez offers an ode to the magic and music of the singing frogs of South America’s Pantanel region.


CURWOOD: Often we learn about rare animals from serious biologists who travel many miles and endure many hardships to research the creatures that fascinate them. But we can also get a keen sense of appreciation and wonder for nature's critters from someone who freely admits he knows next to nothing about science. Someone like producer Tom Lopez. Here is his lesson about the frogs of the Pantanal.


LOPEZ: I recorded these frogs in the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a floodplain, or what I'd call a big swamp. It's mainly in Brazil but extends into Bolivia and Paraguay. They claim it's about 230,000 square kilometers. That's almost five times the size of Costa Rica. There's a lot of wildlife, especially at night, as you can hear. They sound like something from planet Venus. I call them the singing frogs of the Pantanal. I think they're frogs. They could be toads.

Let me play you something else.


LOPEZ: They're what's known as your common garden toad. You'd never expect something with so many warts could sing like this. And listen to the way they all get together into these toad choruses, all twirling away. Reminds me of Moroccan women, the way they twirl.

We also have tree toads. They're tiny little green things about the size of your thumb. Amazing voices these little fellows have. You can tell it's a tree toad because you'll hear them up in the air above your head, twirling in some tree.

Meanwhile, back in the Pantanal -- like I said, I don't know if these are frogs or if they're toads -- but I'll tell you a story. There was a holy man. This is a true story, by the way, and it's a contemporary story. This contemporary holy man enjoyed going for walks in the woods, preferably alone. But living nearby was a university professor who loved to join the holy man on his walks. As they walked along, the professor would name everything. That tree belongs to whatever species. And that plant is such and such. That bush over there is so and so. That bird that just flew by is a whatever. The professor was a very informed man.

So, finally, the holy man said something that the professor never could quite get. The holy man said, "Drop your knowledge, knowledge is worthless. Wonder is precious."


LOPEZ: Isn't this one of the most beautiful things you've ever heard?


LOPEZ: But still, I wonder, is it a frog or is it a toad?


CURWOOD: The singing frogs of the Pantanal was produced by Tom Lopez as part of the Hearing Voices series, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

[MUSIC: Kevin Volans “White Man Sleeps” Pieces of Africa Elektra (1992)]

CURWOOD: When I went to South Africa, I knew that only Brazil and Indonesia had more biological diversity. Still, it was startling to see lions, rhinos, and hippos on the grasslands, and then in the same country see dolphins in the ocean. One morning, I was walking on a series of sandy beaches tucked below the mountains of the western Cape when I came across maybe a dozen dolphins playing. Four of the dolphins broke away and swam among in the direction I was headed.

Close to shore, in the distance, I saw a big dark rock which kept submerging under the waves. Eventually I realized it was a humpback whale, which the dolphins started to play with. I had never seen a whale so close to shore. I had also never seen a whale being called out to the playground. The whale then followed the dolphins back down along the beach to their pod. They all seemed to have a great time dancing over the waves.

The next morning I read in the paper that a hundred people had left one of the beaches nearby to go and swim with the dolphins. Now, I want to go back so I can swim with them, too.

Thanks to Heritage Africa, you too, perhaps, can frolic with dolphins. Living on Earth is giving away a 15-day trip for two on the ultimate African safari, with visits to several of Africa's most impressive wildlife enclaves, including Kruger, the Serengeti, and the Cape of Good Hope. Please go to our website, loe.org, for more details about how to win this 15-day trip to see some of Africa's most spectacular sights. That's loe.org.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12, and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council.



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