Critically Endangered frogs were returned to native Caribbean home ahead of International Mountain Chicken Frog Day
One of the world’s rarest frogs, bred as part of an international project to save the species from extinction, has been successfully returned to its Caribbean home ahead of the global day to highlight the plight of their species.
Fifty one Critically Endangered mountain chicken frogs, native only to the islands of Montserrat and Dominica, were released back onto Montserrat this summer following a hugely successful breeding programme at ZSL London Zoo.
The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme is a partnership between Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Zoological Society of London, North of England Zoological Society Chester Zoo, Nordens Ark and the Governments of Montserrat and Dominica.
Decimated by the spread of the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and facing the very real threat of extinction, conservationists feared that the mountain chicken frog had been all but wiped out from the eastern-Caribbean island and are hailing the reintroduction as a huge step forwards for the amphibians.
One of the planet’s largest frog species, the release of mountain chicken frogs on to Montserrat aims to not only boost the number of healthy individuals in the wild but will help conservationists from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) learn more about their wild behaviour and the disease dynamics for this species.
Fitted with tracking devices, the newly-released frogs are being monitored to gather further information that can be used to aid future conservation efforts.
In 2009 it was reported by conservationists from ZSL and Durrell that the wild population of mountain chicken frogs in Montserrat had severely declined due to disease, and urgent action was taken to safeguard their future. A small population of the last remaining healthy frogs was airlifted from Montserrat in a dramatic rescue mission.
Transported to three custom-built centres at ZSL London Zoo, Durrell in Jersey and Parken Zoo in Sweden, the 50 rescued frogs were the founders of the conservation breeding programme established to preserve and develop a healthy population of the animals, which would have otherwise undoubtedly been destroyed by the fungal disease.
Following the incredible success of the breeding programme, which resulted in 76 frogs from just two females at ZSL London Zoo in 2012, a group of the precious frogs were then reared at Durrell and ZSL London Zoo before their return to the Caribbean, where they were released in a protected area of the island’s forest.
Head of Herpetology at ZSL London Zoo, Ben Tapley, said: “Mountain chicken frogs are one of the most endangered animals on this planet - not only are they facing threats from habitat loss, but their numbers plummeted due to the introduction of the most devastating disease known to affect amphibians worldwide.
“The rescued frogs and their offspring were kept in a bio-secure, temperature-controlled breeding unit at ZSL London Zoo, to ensure a clean bill of health before their release back to their native habitat in the Caribbean.”
Discussing the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme Jeff Dawson, Durrell’s Amphibian Programme Officer said: “The current release in Montserrat is the culmination of our four year long mountain chicken project on the island, and the team from Durrell and the Department of Environment has been working tirelessly over the last nine weeks radio tracking the released frogs.
“The data collected will help our understanding around the dynamics of this disease in the wild which will be vital in guiding our future conservation actions for this amazing species.”