While the older generation seems to struggle with Smartphones, gen Y seems to be born with the love for gizmos. Ask any parent, children these days seem to be demanding more and more screen time. This is a major worry amongst parents – ‘my child is missing out on the unadulterated joys of childhood and the underlying learning that comes with it, like chasing frogs in the rain?’ What if there was an app that helped not just your child, but you, too, chase frogs all over again?!
The accidental interest
In 1989, Gururaja, a young boy was recovering from a bout of rheumatism, after having been in bed for three months. To keep him company and make sure he moved around, his elder brother and sisters engaged him in activities that finally got him out of his room. On Sundays, his brother used to take him to a nearby lake on a bicycle. He used to show him birds, taught him how to watch birds, to make their sketches, and how to identify the birds. This sparked young Gururaja’s interest in biology.
His journey with frogs started in 1998 during his Master’s dissertation programme – about the feeding habits of a particular night frog called Nyctibatrachus aff.major. Since then, Gururaja has been doing pioneering work in the field of Batrachology. And that’s not all; he’s part of the team at Gubbi Labs that launched FrogFind on April 28, 2013, on ‘Save the Frogs’ day.
Birds to Frogs
Earlier, Gururaja’s dissertation supervisor had asked him to work on ‘birds of the university campus’. To the supervisor’s surprise, Gururaja had already listed the birds during his time at the university. He then asked him to work on frogs; on which his supervisor was working as well. Gururaja adds, “My inquisitive nature made me switch from birds to frogs and that was the turning point in my life – to work for the rest of my life on frogs! I noticed that this particular frog (N. aff.major) feeds on other species of frogs in its neighbourhood, along with insects. Soon I found myself doing a PhD on amphibian ecology.”
Finding a new species of frogs – Nyctibatrachus karnatakaensis
It was in the first field visit to Kudremukh National Park (Karnataka), that Gururaja encountered a species of ‘night frog’ with his team. “It was a huge night frog (almost the size of my palm); I’d not seen such a night frog earlier. This night frog was hiding below the boulders in a fast running stream, making it difficult for us to even observe the frog.” Gururaja managed to catch one in his hand – his gut feeling was that this frog was not one that had been recorded. The team took all the data they needed, and it matched none of the existing records! And so, N. karnatakaensis was discovered in 2007.
Frog Find – marrying nature with mobile
Frog Find, the mobile app, won the India Geospatial Excellence award for Biodiversity Conservation in 2014. Gururaja tells us about how it came about: “Credit should go to Mr. Harish Shanthi Kumar and Mr. Ashwin Murugesh for designing such an impressive app! We met in our lab as they had come to collect a pictorial guide to frogs and toads that had just been published, in June, 2012. Flipping through the pages, Harish asked me, ‘based on this guide can we build an app on frogs?’ It was quite a surprise for me – on one hand I had just got my book published, and on the other hand, I thought, if there is an app, that can change the way we look at frogs. I took a couple of days to do a SWOT analysis to arrive at a decision.”