Joining forces to save the Mountain Chicken frog

Joining forces to save the Mountain Chicken frog

#Conservation, #Field Conservation Grants , #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 01st April 2019 by Media Relations

Every two years, Taronga extends its reach by awarding funding to other organisations and conservation projects around the world. Since launching the Field Conservation Grants in 2008, Taronga has provided funding and staff support to 70 vital programs. Projects that have benefited from a Taronga Field Conservation Grant have helped to regenerate habitats, mitigate human-wildlife conflict, reduce poaching and trafficking and create opportunities for people and wildlife to live side by side.

 

The Mountain Chicken (Leptodactylas fallax) or Giant Ditch Frog is a critically endangered frog, named so because…it tastes like chicken.

 

Found on the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat the Mountain Chicken is a local delicacy and human consumption is one of the main threats to the species. Also contributing to its decline is the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. Chytridiomycosis was first discovered on Dominica in 2002 and spread to Montserrat by 2009, this has seen a decline of the wild population by over 90 per cent.

 

Chytridiomycosis is a highly infectious disease in amphibians and is contributing to a global decline in amphibian populations around the world, affecting about 30 per cent of amphibian species. Since the arrival of the disease, local governments have banned the hunting of the mountain chicken to help preserve the species. In an effort to help, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation trust also airlifted 50 Mountain Chickens out of the Caribbean and into zoos in the UK and Sweden, where they have since been successful in breeding.

 

Through our Field Conservation Grant program, Taronga has partnered with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation trust to create a refuge from Chytridiomycosis for the Mountain Chicken in its home range. Over the past year, the Mountain Chicken Recovery Program recruited an in-country project coordinator and completed the first phase of work. This included:

 

  • Conversion of an old volcano shelter for a live food breeding facility.
  • Wild capture and establishment of self-sustaining breeding colonies of endemic crickets and cockroaches. Three local staff have also been trained in daily invertebrate care.
  • Construction of three trial ponds, in which background data has been collected and various heating initiatives tested. Tree canopy in this area has also been managed to increase solar radiation of substrate and contribute to heating. Environmental manipulations have repeatedly and successfully raised temperatures above the 30 degrees required to control and kill the chytrid fungus.
  • Surveys conducted across three sites to determine infection levels in the Johnstone’s whistling frog found across the Caribbean.
  • Engagement and outreach initiatives have been implemented by the project coordinator, including radio interviews, news segments, workshops at local schools and upscaling of social media campaigns.
  • Surveys to locate any wild Mountain Chicken populations which may have started to recover after an initial crash. These surveys have also been used as a community engagement opportunity.

Phase two of the project is to release captive bred Mountain Chickens into a semi-wild enclosure in Montserrat in July 2019. Quotes have been received and construction should begin on this enclosure in April. Following the release of the frogs the experimental phase to determine whether environmental manipulations are successful in mitigating chytridiomycosis in semi-wild conditions will begin.

The ongoing project will determine success in preventing chytridomycosis in semi wild populations via environmental manipulation. This will be scalable and transferrable to future systems and allow the project to increase the scale and implementation of the recovery effort.

Photograph of Mountain Chicken by Mike Hudson