Montserrat welcomes dozens of specially reared mountain chicken frogs

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Leptodactylus fallax or mountain chicken frog as it more commonly known. (File photo)

LONDON, England, Friday September 12, 2014, CMC – Dozens of frogs reared in United Kingdom zoos have been returned to their Caribbean home in a painstaking operation, five years after their parents were airlifted out to escape a deadly fungus.

A total of 51 Leptodactylus fallax, known as mountain chicken frogs because they reportedly taste like chicken and make a clucking-like noise, have been released on Montserrat, a British Overseas Territory.

In 2009, conservationists recsued a population of the critically-endangered frogs from the island to avoid them being wiped out by a chytrid fungus, which has devastated amphibian numbers worldwide, according to the Guardian newspaper.

It said the mountain chicken frog population has also dwindled due to people eating them. The species is the national dish in Montserrat and Dominica.

Following a breeding programme by London Zoo and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which produced 76 frogs from just two females, 51 of them were put in custom-built shipping containers and flown to Montserrat in July.

Head of herpetology at the Zoological Society of London, Ben Tapley, said the demanding logistics showed the dedication of the conservation efforts.

“As the frogs were being held in the run-up to release (on Montserrat), they had to be fed. We ordered a massive load of insects, and to avoid introducing an invasive pest to the Caribbean, someone had to sort through the crickets, throwing out the females so we only sent males. We checked it three times, and sent 5,000 male crickets.”

While not the first ever reintroduction of the frogs to the island, Tapley said it was the first during the wet season, when he hoped frogs would be more dispersed than in the dry season, and, therefore, less likely to contract the disease caused by the fungus, Chytridiomycosis, which infects the skin through which many amphibians drink and breathe.

The freed frogs will be tracked by radio tags to map their movements, with batteries that will last a few months, as well as a team of conservationists in the field.

“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,” said Jeff Dawson, Durrell’s amphibian program officer.

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