An ambitious rescue operation has been put in place by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Durrell) , the Ministry of the Environment in Montserrat and the Zoological Society of London, UK to prevent the decimation of Montserrat’s threatened “mountain chicken” frog from chytrid fungus.
Chytrid fungus which has devastated amphibians worldwide has been found to be responsible for the death of a large portion of the mountain chicken frog population of Montserrat. Following reports from the Montserrat Department of the Environment (DOE), of sightings of dead animals in March, Durrell conservationists made a trip to the island to investigate.
The “mountain chicken” frog Leptodactylus fallax (red list status CE) is found only on the islands of Dominica and Montserrat. It is one of the world’s largest frogs and in Montserrat is found in the Centre Hills. It is sometimes eaten, having a chicken-like flavour, though over-hunting appears to have contributed to population declines on Montserrat. A number of threatened species, including the Montserrat Oriole Icterus oberi, have already been under stress following habitat destruction in the Centre Hills from the volcanic eruptions in 1995 and ongoing to the present day.
The Durrell and DOE investigation discovered that all populations in the North and northwest of the Centre Hills have been killed off and there are just two remaining populations of the amphibians in the north-eastern corner. A similar spread of the infection decimated populations in Dominica in 2002.
On 7th April, 24 frogs, accompanied by the Durrell team, were taken from their natural habitat and flown to the UK. 12 are being cared for at the Durrell‘s wildlife park on Jersey in the Channel Islands and the remaining 12 are being treated at the Zoological Society of London. A second shipment of 26 frogs was sent on 14th April to Parken Zoo in Sweden. In addition, Durrell will be testing the viability of treating the fungus in the wild, which has never been done before. It is anticipated that the captive populations will be treated and returned to Montserrat within a couple of years.
Durrell have been working in the Caribbean alongside a number of Forestry and Environment Ministries for over 30 years on a number of species conservation programmes including ones for the Montserrat oriole and the St. Lucia parrot. Durrell is an NGO member of IUCN member.