26 JANUARY 2018
ARTICLE BY ERICA REBELO
The Mountain Chicken Frog is classified by IUCN as Critically Endagered.
The Mountain Chicken Frog is one of the largest frog species in the world. Adults are typically 16cm in length - but can easily reach 20cm – and weigh more than 1kg.
THE CAUSE FOR NEAR EXTINCTION
In the past, the population of chicken mountain frogs was heavily hunted for food, as it was the national dish on Dominica and a widely used source of protein on a both national and international level. The name of this species comes from its’ taste. Its’ legs were considered a delicacy and apparentely tasted like chicken. Every year, 8.000 to 36.000 animals were harvested for food.
However, it was not hunting that led this species to the brink of extinction. A fungal disease caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis decimated the frog population, causing the death of 85% of the individuals. Before the chytridiomycosis epidemic, mountain chickens were abundant, and the population exceeded tens of thousands.
The population decline started in 2002. Between then and 2004, the subpopulation in Dominica was decimated with loss of over 85% of the individuals: within months, a population of tens of thousands was reduced to about 200. By 2006, the mountain chicken could not be seen or heard. As a measure of preventing further decline of the population, hunting these amphibians became illegal in Dominica and Montserrat.
When in 2009 the fungus was identified in Montserrat, the population in this island was also at risk of completely disappearing. The decision was made to remove fifty of the remaining individuals for captive breeding in zoos. The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP) counts with the participation of several facilities and zoological institutions, namely Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Norden's Ark Zoological Society of London, Paington Zoo, Chester Zoo and the governments of Montserrat and Dominica.
The captive breeding program is still ongoing, and successful breeding has occurred. Since 2011, about 120 frogs have been released into the wild. Short-term therapy and prophylaxis with itraconazole in in situ frogs was successful, whilst long-term effect in survival has not been observed. Despite all these efforts to save this species in the wild, a successful method to allow the long-term survival of both reintroduced and wild animals has yet to be accomplished. Photo: BIAZA
The total population loss is estimated to be of 99% during the last 12 years. In 2017, the Dominican subpopulation was thought to contain about 130 individuals. However, since hurricane Maria, no frogs have been heard or seen.
If we want to save another species from extinction, it's essential that further research is conducted and the multi-institutional conservation efforts be supported by the community.