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Mountain Chicken Frog Battles Lethal Amphibian Fungus to Escape Extinction

Image of a mountain chicken frog taken from Norden’s Ark Conservation Team

The once abundant Mountain Chicken Frog now faces the dangers of extinction against deadly fungus

The mountain chicken frog, which can still be found in large numbers all throughout Dominica, was formerly so common that eating one was considered a national delicacy since it is said to have a chicken flavor. Only 21 people are now left in the Caribbean Island country, according to a recent poll.

CNN reports that a study team from the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme, a collaboration of 10 European and Caribbean conservation organizations with the aim of restoring healthy populations of the frog in Dominica and Montserrat by 2034, performed the survey over the course of 26 nights. Over the course of the months of July and August, the research team devoted hundreds of hours to looking for the chicken frog. According to Andrés Valenzuela Sánchez, a research fellow in animal health at ZSL who was engaged in the study, 23 frogs were recovered, but two of them were found dead on the road.

The critically endangered frog was once native to seven Caribbean islands, including Montserrat and Dominica, but habitat loss, predator introductions, and overexploitation by humans have all had a significant negative impact on the species’ population levels. Chytridiomycosis, a deadly fungal disease, has made the situation even worse.

The Zoological Society of London, or ZSL, reports that since Chytridiomycosis first appeared in 2002, the population of the species has decreased by nearly 99%. A fungal infection called chytridiomycosis affects more than 500 species of frogs worldwide. According to a ZSL press release, the species originally inhabited seven Caribbean islands, but scientists think Dominica is the only site on Earth where the frogs may still be found in the wild.

Additionally, Caribbean islands are experiencing drier weather due to climate change, which is impeding attempts to rescue the species. This iconic and important cultural frog’s future is still in jeopardy from these various threats. There is an urgent call for the preservation of mountain chicken frogs, spearheaded by a global collaboration of conservation scientists worldwide.

Despite the bleak outlook, Brisbane had a positive attitude.

“Thanks to the cooperation that has gone into protecting this species, we have been able to keep the mountain chicken frog alive and able to resist the fungal illness for more than 20 years today. We shouldn’t lose sight of it. With the correct resources, we might be able to change their course of events if we can maintain that effort for just a little while longer. Without a doubt, we are not giving up.”

According to Andrew Cunningham, director of wildlife epidemiology at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), “this is an amazing animal.” It may weigh more than a kg and reach a maximum length of about 20 cm. One of Dominica’s top predators, it consumed insects, small animals, snakes, and other frogs. Both males and females play major roles in rearing their young.

Further, Cunningham added that the male mountain chicken frog’s cry used to make the island vibrate. “There is quiet right now. This species was in good condition only a few decades ago, but now it is in danger of being extinct in the wild. Its demise serves as a stark reminder to us about the threats now threatening biodiversity on Earth.

The National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute of the Smithsonian Institution estimates that chytrid illness has been responsible for 90 species extinctions during the previous 50 years. There is yet hope, according to Alyssa Wetterau Kaganer, a postdoctoral associate with the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab who researches the illness. Currently, there is no vaccine. She wasn’t a part of the survey.

As a word of encouragement in saving the mountain chicken frogs,  Kaganer wrote in an email that “innovative research is going on all over the world as top scientists explore various frog immunity, genetic, microbiome, and environmental treatment options.”

Fender’s blue butterfly in female form: The US Fish and Wildlife Service changed the status of the species from “endangered” to “threatened”. It was originally believed that this butterfly was extinct. It is no longer listed as an endangered species.

Even species that have been particularly hard-hit by chytrid, like the mountain chicken frog, have individual animals that survive for extended periods of time in environments where the fungus is present. These individuals may hold the key to understanding how to best combat the fungus.

The study team was disheartened to discover the shockingly small number of frogs in Dominica; it had anticipated finding at least 50, according to Sánchez. Several institutions, including the London Zoo, a ZSL conservation zoo, participated in a captive breeding study that began with 50 frogs that are currently producing young. The ZSL team collected mouth swabs from the resident frogs while doing the survey, and they want to examine them to see whether there is any indication that the remaining frogs are becoming resistant to the fungus.

Even common folk living in the area can aid in the preservation of these mountain chicken frogs. The chytrid fungus that causes Chytridiomycosis is spread by human activity like transporting infected animals or disposing of animal products or waste into the environment, creating infected water bodies.

In an email, Kaganer stated that “there are many things that people can do to stop the spread of chytrid and help protect frogs. Cleaning footwear after being outside is a fantastic alternative. Before going inside, spend a moment cleaning the muck off your boot treads. Just make sure to get rid of the trash properly!”

It can also be very important to preserve this frog species and others, according to Kaganer, to donate to or volunteer with regional conservation institutions and other groups that place a high priority on biosecurity—methods intended to stop the transmission of dangerous illnesses to animals in the wild.

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