Officials in southern Austrian province Carinthia said Tuesday that poachers are collecting frogs from the roadside buckets they have been guided into to save them from busy highways, and are then smuggling them home to Italian dinner tables.
Frogs' legs are a delicacy in some parts of Italy. Officials told Austrian state television Tuesday that the victims tend to be those with the meatiest thighs.
Frogs attempting to cross some Austrian highways are channeled by a series of fences into roadside buckets. Once a day, volunteers collect the buckets and carry the amphibians to the other side of the road and set them free.
But "the Italians strike before the frog pickers come," says Carinthian environmental official Bernhard Gutleb.
The delicacy can be costly. Officials warn that those caught with their hand in the bucket face fines up to euro3,600 ($5,149).
Nearly one third of the world's 6,485 frog species are on the brink of extinction, according to Save The Frogs - a nonprofit organization dedicated to amphibian conservation.