Mountain Chicken Frog Conservation

Mountain chicken frog

The mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) is not a chicken. It is a frog. Officially named the Giant Ditch Frog and locally known as a mountain chicken (for its large size and the fact that is is eaten for food), the mountain chicken is a frog that lives in Dominica and Montserrat.

The population has declined 90% in the last ten years and this species is now critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List. The reality is that there are only 44 wild individuals on Dominica and 3 on Monserrat, that we know of.

The main threats are human consumption and the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. ZSL and partners are working on both in-situ and ex-situ captive breeding, with the hopes of future re-introduction.

Why we are there

The mountain chicken populations on both islands have undergone significant declines associated with the arrival of the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. Remaining wild populations are estimated to be no more than a few hundred individuals. The mountain chicken is of cultural importance to the people of Dominica, where the frog was the national dish. The immediate future of the species is uncertain with the most realistic hope being through captive breeding and release. The project is guided by scientific research which have underpinned decisions on surveys and interventions required to ensure the long term survival of this species. There is ongoing research on the emergence, epidemiology and impact of chytridiomycosis in mountain chickens. On Dominica, this work is assessing the current size and disease status of the remnant mountain chicken population and sympatric amphibian species.

There is no known effective in-situ treatment for chytridiomycosis, which means intense, hands-on management is needed. Mountain chickens are the perfect model species from which to learn about the impact, epidemiology and treatment of chytridiomycosis and the results of this research have the potential to guide conservation measures on many of hundreds of other amphibians that are impacted by this and similar diseases.

Key Achievements & Goals

Our goal is to have healthy populations of mountain chickens as a flagship species for the islands’ natural and cultural heritage.

Achievements:

  • Rapid response to population declines attributed to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis.
  • Assisted in establishing a conservation breeding facility for mountain chickens in Dominica.
  • Assisted in the development of a molecular diagnostics laboratory in Dominica.
  • Capacity building, trained in country personnel in mountain chicken husbandry, field survey and laboratory techniques.
  • Research into the emergence, epidemiology of chytridiomycosis in mountain chickens.
  • Worked with partners to develop a 20 year conservation action plan for mountain chickens.
  • Key partner in the ex-situ conservation programme.
  • Maintaining a population of mountain chickens in a biosecure facility at ZSL London Zoo, frogs have been bred in captivity and released in Montserrat.
  • Undertaken research to improve the captive husbandry and pre-release health screening of mountain chickens.

 

Project information

Key species

Mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax)

People involved

  • Andrew Cunningham
  • Benjamin Tapley
  • Mike Hudson
  • Trenton Garner
  • Nick Lindsay

Parners and sponsors

Partners: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust; Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Parks, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Commonwealth of Dominica; Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Commonwealth of Dominica; The Government of Montserrat; North of England Zoological Society.

Sponsors: In the past these have included Darwin, EAZA and the British Herpetological Society. Mike Hudson’s PhD work is currently funded by the Balcombe Trust, through Durrell Wildlife Conservation Triust.

Website

http://www.mountainchicken.org/

Publications

Report: An overview of current efforts to conserve the Critically Endangered mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) on Dominica (1.21 MB)