CHESTER, England, Monday June 27, 2016 – Dominica and Montserrat’s Mountain Chicken frog, long prized as a delicacy for its succulent meat, is on the verge of extinction.
The species has suffered from years of over-hunting as well as habitat loss on several eastern Caribbean islands where it once lived.
The introduction of invasive species of predators, volcanic eruptions on Montserrat, and the chytridiomycosis fungal disease have also contributed to the species becoming critically endangered.
Hunting the Mountain Chicken frog, or crapaud as it is known locally, is now illegal in Dominica and Montserrat in an effort to protect the surviving few.
Now, Britain’s Chester Zoo is working in collaboration with other zoos to help save the species from extinction through a breeding programme that is the first of its kind ever to focus on amphibians.
Two dozen frogs have been carefully paired using detailed genetic information in a new breeding effort which is viewed as the only remaining hope for the long-term survival of the species.
Together with Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in the UK, and Norden Ark in Sweden, Chester Zoo aims to ensure a genetically viable population of the frogs kept in bio-secure conditions which, one day, could see them reintroduced into the wild.
According to Dr Gerardo Garcia, curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates at Chester Zoo and studbook holder for the mountain chicken breeding programme: “Essentially we’ve created a dating agency for one of the largest and most endangered frog species in the world.
“Based on genetic evidence and DNA sampling we’ve matched together the best pairs of mountain chicken frogs from the four institutions in Europe that work with them – to try and breed the most genetically viable population of the frogs that we possibly can.
“Our ultimate aim is to reintroduce these wonderful animals back into the wild where, sadly, their numbers have been completely decimated.
“To do that we need a long-term sustainable breeding programme and this is the first and only European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for an amphibian, so it’s a real landmark plan that we’ve developed. The frogs are spiralling closer and closer to extinction – so it really is do or die for them.
“Protecting mountain chicken frogs is incredibly important to conservationists. These frogs are the top terrestrial predator on the Caribbean islands where they live and crucial to the control of pests and insects.
“They have a key role in the eco-system and their disappearance could potentially have an impact on crops and, subsequently, livelihoods. These frogs have also always been culturally important to the islands.
“Mountain chickens are incredibly charismatic and there’s no other species that’s like them. However, what we’re doing to try and protect them is not just about this species, as what is learnt here can be applied to others in the future. Right now we have no idea just how valuable this work could be.”
Chester Zoo works with universities and other experts in the field to carry out research, much of which is done in three specially built laboratories at the zoo, called A-Pods. One of the A-Pods is entirely devoted to helping save the mountain chicken.
The mountain chicken is one of the world’s biggest frogs and its powerful back legs can propel it over a man’s head, or for a distance of more than six feet.
Mainly crepuscular or nocturnal, it rests during the day (inside burrows, under logs or camouflaged on leaf litter) and comes out to hunt for food at dusk.
The mountain chicken got its name because its meat tastes like chicken. Its own diet consists largely of insects, snails, spiders, centipedes, sometimes geckoes, smaller frogs and even snakes.