Mountain Chicken Frogs Rescued and Airlifted By London Zoo
By Lynsey Ford
London, UK - One of the world’s rarest species of amphibians has been airlifted to safety in a last ditch attempt to save it from extinction.
Twelve critically endangered mountain chicken frogs are seeking sanctuary in a new rescue facility at ZSL London Zoo after being airlifted off the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
In total 50 frogs have been saved from the island, after it had emerged that amphibians on Montserrat were being killed by chytridiomycosis; a deadly fungal disease which has already lead to the extinction of some of the world’s amphibian.
The frogs have been saved as part of a speedy rescue mission by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT).
Dr Andrew Cunningham, a senior ZSL scientist, says: “Chytridiomycosis has already decimated the mountain chickens on Dominica and within a few weeks of the disease being diagnosed on the neighbouring island of Montserrat, its impact has been catastrophic. The mountain chicken frog has been virtually wiped out on the island and the number of surviving frogs decreases every day.”
The 50 airlifted mountain chicken frogs, which have been split into three groups, are now being housed in innovative captive breeding units at ZSL London Zoo, the DWCT in Jersey and Parken Zoo in Sweden.
ZSL London Zoo is now the only place in the world to house mountain chicken frogs from both Dominica and Montserrat in its captive breeding unit which includes temperature controlled rooms, automated spray systems and dedicated areas for rearing live food.
Bio-security measures including full paper suits, masks and gloves worn by keepers, ensure that no pathogens - such as the chytridiomycosis - can enter from the outside.
Ian Stephen, ZSL’s Assistant Curator of Herpetology, says: “Our captive breeding unit means that we are now in a great position to support the Mountain chicken frogs from Montserrat at a time when their home is rife of this deadly disease. This ex-situ rescue population gives genuine hope for the future survival of this species.”
In partnership with the DWCT, the ZSL is leading the international programme for the in-situ and ex-situ conservation management of mountain chickens.
Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation overseas. For further information please visit www.zsl.org.
Mountain chicken frogs (leptodactylus fallax) are one of the largest frogs in the world, weighing in at over 2lbs. Currently, the species is only found in Montserrat. It was once the traditional national dish of Dominica until chytrid fungus spread across the island. The frog, which is named mountain chicken because its meat tastes like chicken, lives mainly in the lowlands and not in the mountains. Mountain chicken frogs breed by laying eggs in a foam-filled burrow. The mother stays near the burrow to feed the tadpoles with infertile eggs until they are ready to fend for themselves.
· Chytridiomycosis is a non-native fungal disease that infects the skin of amphibians, a vital organ through which many drink and breathe. It was identified in 1998 by an international team of scientists led by ZSL. It is believed to have originated in Africa, with the export of African clawed frogs around the world for human pregnancy testing and lab studies spreading the disease worldwide. Recently, the food and pet trades may have contributed to the problem as well. The disease is thought to have been responsible for catastrophic declines in some Australian, North American, Central American, South American and Caribbean species. The situation in Europe is less clear through a lack of data, although some species have seriously declined in upland areas of Spain.
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