Three Frenchmen are looking at the possibility of jail time after police and wildlife authorities caught them with nearly 1,100 illegally captured frogs that were bound for local soup pots in central France.
Authorities in the department of Cantal in the Auvergne region caught the crew red-handed as they used fish traps to catch frogs in wetland areas. The men had been suspected for years of large scale poaching but authorities finally caught up with them, French daily Le Parisien reported.
“It’s a first on this scale in Cantal, with this type of equipment and people who are clearly regulars at this,” local police Major Patrick Soubrier told Le Parisien.
“We found protected species and non-protected ones. They were harvesting whatever they could.”
The French hunger for frogs' legs, (cuisses de grenouille) is so great, with 80 million frogs consumed each year, that some species are now in danger. As a result, France was forced to place a ban on commercial frog hunting and farming that has been in effect since 1980.
In response to the ferocious demand for frogs in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and China, Indonesia has now become the world's biggest exporter of the amphibians. In recent years Indonesia has provided more than 80 percent of Europe's imports, almost all caught in the wild by small-scale hunters who make about €38 a day.
On the French frog black market a dozen pairs of locally caught legs fetch about €5, which means the haul authorities captured on Saturday was worth just over €458. However, police confiscated the catch of just one hunt; if multiplied over the course of years the illicit gains swell dramatically.
In pursuit of these ill-gotten profits French poachers have come to know well the habits of their prey, according to wildlife officials. The poachers are especially active during mating season when frogs are more visible and easier to catch.
Despite France’s significant penalties for frog poaching - a €15,000 fine and up to a year behind bars, the illicit harvest is likely to continue. There are simply too many locations to watch and not enough wildlife protection officers, conservation authorities told Le Parisien.