LONDON — Only 21 of one of the world’s largest species of frogs remain alive in the wild, a new study reports. Now, a global group of conservationists are calling for urgent action to save the endangered mountain chicken frog.
Once commonly found across Caribbean islands, including Montserrat and Dominica, the mountain chicken frog has been driven to the brink of extinction by a deadly microscopic fungus called Amphibian Chytridiomycosis as well as a combination of climate change, pollution, and loss of suitable habitats.
“The charismatic male calls of the mountain chicken frog once reverberated around the rainforests of Dominica at night – we want to bring this sound back to our island, for our people,” says Dominican ecologist Jeanelle Brisbane, speaking on behalf of the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP), in a media release.
“It’s devastating that future generations may never hear this iconic soundscape which defines our island.”
Researchers with the Zoological Society of London say amphibian chytridiomycosis arrived in Dominica in 2002 and caused the population to plummet by over 99 percent. This disease also caused drastic declines in 500 frog species across the world and led to over 90 extinctions in just 50 years.
The survey conducted was part of the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme – an international collaboration bringing together expertise from across the Caribbean and Europe.
The most recent survey saw 28 conservationists from 11 organizations, including ZSL, spend a total of 960 hours over 26 nights searching for the frog – one of the largest in the world.
“It’s been over 20 years since amphibian chytridiomycosis first arrived in the Caribbean, and in that time mountain chicken frog numbers have been decimated,” says Professor Andrew Cunningham, of ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
“However, this year’s survey did give us one reason for optimism. Despite all the threats these frogs are facing, the team identified one particularly special frog. He was tagged as a mature individual in a survey eight years ago, so we know that this frog is at least 11 years old – making him the oldest wild mountain chicken frog known to be in existence.”
“If this individual can persist in the face of endless challenges, it gives us hope for the future of the species more widely – and we need those with the power to rewrite this story to invest in that future.”
Weighing almost one kilo (2.2 lbs.), the mountain chicken frog is the largest native frog species in the Caribbean. Its reddish brown and cream color provides effective camouflage against the leaf litter of the forest floor.
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South West News Service writer Ellie McDonald contributed to this report.