The Big Release

by Dan John on
Dan John

This was it. The day that years of work had been building to. The day when the first batch of mountain chicken frogs which had been bred by ZSL London Zoo and Durrell would finally get released back into the forests of Montserrat. However, although this was the whole reason I was on the island and of course I was as excited as everybody else, I also felt a tinge of sadness as this marked the beginning of the end of my stay on the island.  

I have really enjoyed my time on Montserrat. It is pretty much the opposite of London. Here the weather is great and people actually look forward to rain. You always say "hello" to people, especially strangers. Nothing runs on time but nobody cares. Drivers use their car horns not as an expression of anger or to chastise, but to say hello to their friends (which is everyone on the island as they all seem to know each other). The food is fresh and it's near impossible to find a good microwavable meal. It makes you wonder who's living life the right way...actually, no it doesn't, they are. Fact. Except for the microwavable meals bit, that’s a travesty. 

However, there was no time for gushy sentiment about how much I liked the island or the awesome team from Durrell I had been working with. A Minister from the Montserrat Government was in the National Trust to give a speech before the team sprung into action preparing the frogs for release. Earlier in the day I had gone into forest with the team to view the release sight and film the guys putting up tents for the frogs to be placed in when they are first released. This was quite bizarre to watch and afterwards the release sight looked a bit like a froggy Glastonbury.

mountain chicken frog tents montserrat
Putting up tents for the frog release.
 Back in the National Trust and the Minister had finished his speech and the team sprung into action; catching up the frogs one at a time, reading the microchip, taking the temperature and swabbing it before packing it up ready to be transported. I was amazed at how fast Blacka, one of the local guys working on the project, was able to catch up the frogs; his reactions were lightning quick and he was able to spot a mountain chicken from a mile off regardless of their camouflage. I could do with him next time I lose my house keys! 

Catching up mountain chicken frogs before release in Montserrat
Catching up the mountain chicken frogs before release.

Once the frogs were packed up we headed off in convoy to the release sight in the Northern Montserrat forest. As we started walking with the frogs to the sight the sun began to set, which panicked me slightly as earlier in the day the guys had pointed out a large number of tarantula holes to me, which in the light I could deal with but in the dark freaked me out a little more. I have to say, as the first frogs were placed into their tent to aclimatise to the forest, I felt a bit like a proud parent whose children were about to head off into the big wide world. These frogs had accompanied me on my adventure all the way from London and now they were about to start a big new adventure of their own. 

Releasing the mountain chicken frogs in Montserrat
Releasing the mountain chicken frogs

After about 20 minutes or so the first tent got unzipped and one particularly brave frog hopped straight out, followed very tentatively by his less sure friends (after a bit of gentle persuasion). It was fantastic to finally get a chance to film the mountain chicken frog in its natural habitat as they took one small hop for frogs and one giant leap for mountain chicken frog-kind. Hearing their call in the forest again was an amazing moment for the whole team and reminded everybody why this project is so important.

Filming the mountain chicken frogs in Montserrat
Filming a released mountain chicken frog.

I didn't have to wait long to find out what these frogs were getting up to after their release as the next day we returned to the forest and I filmed the team radio tracking the frogs. Many had remained in and around the area of the tents - one little guy was even found sitting on top of the tent itself - however some had already started to explore. The team will continue to track these frogs for the next few months and study their progress. There is still a long way to go for the mountain chicken frog and its fight against the chytrid fungus, however it is hoped these frogs will be able to provide valuable data to scientists that may in the future mean the distinctive call of the mountain chicken frog returns to the forests of Montserrat for good. 

For me, this was the end of my time on the island and it was time to pack up my camera and travel on to Dominica to film the successful work ZSL is doing on that island to further help preserve the mountain chicken frog there too. As I flew away from the island I couldn't help but look down on the forest and wonder what my froggy chums were up to now.  

A released mountain chicken frog in montserrat
Mountain chicken frog.

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