Mondays and Wednesdays I volunteer with the Mountain Chicken Frog Project. I help out in the mornings at the captive breeding facility in the Botanic Gardens and in the evenings with the field work. The project is intended to conserve the critically endangered mountain chicken frog (Leptodactylus fallax), also known as the crapaud (kwapo in Patois Creole), giant ditch frog, white-lipped frog. The frogs are only found on Dominica and Montserrat, and are in serious danger of extinction due to overhunting and the invasive fungal disease Chytridiomycosis (usually shortened to chytrid). The first reports of the fungus stem from 2002, when people began reporting massive numbers of sick and dying mountain chicken frogs. Estimates range that 70%-95% of the population died around this time.
one of the cricket rooms
Since then, it has become illegal to hunt, capture, or move wild frogs. The breeding facility aims to raise frogs to ultimately release into the wild into the remaining pockets of populations. When out in the field, we monitor how many frogs seem to remain, and whether they have chytrid. The project runs under the Forestry, Wildlife, and Parks Department, in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and Darwin. I mainly work with Machel Sulton, the Amphibian Technician in charge of the project, and Alex Blackman, a volunteer conservation biologist from ZSL.
In the captive breeding facility, my tasks have mostly consisted of feeding the food. The frogs in the facility are fed a rich diet or crickets and cockroaches that are also bred onsite. I cut up cabbage, pumpkin, watercress, for the crickets. Bananas and oranges for the roaches. After delivering the food to the insects in their homey plastic bins, we tend to the frogs. We check where in the pens they are hanging out (under leaves, near drains, out in the open, inside nest boxes). We change their water and make sure the peat substrate is moist.
tending the frog pen
The facility is biosecure as an effort to keep chytrid away. We rinse our boots in a sweet-smelling disinfectant called Virkon, upon entering the facility and between entering different pens. We wear and change gloves whenever doing different tasks or going into different rooms. I'm not allowed to wear the same clothes out for field work as for work in the facility, which can be a challenge. It encourages me to do laundry though, which is good for everybody's sake.
I really love this work. I get to play with bugs and frogs and go hiking in secret locations at night listening for the whoops and croaks of a critter so beloved in the country that it features on bank logos, the national coat of arms, figures of speech, and in the past--featured on dinner plates as the national dish. On one night of field work we also found a five foot boa constrictor along the transect. I got to hold it! Wah!
Sadly, when I tell people I'm involved in the conservation work, some smile and say things like, 'well, isn't that nice.' It doesn't seem like most people are convinced that the frog will recover. I think the efforts we are making to try are worthwhile. The best sign would be if there were evidence of natural immunity among the wild populations, which has been hinted at in some of the data.
Alex and Machel put a tremendous amount of work into public outreach and awareness. The hike along segment 5 that I discussed in my last post was part of their awareness campaign. And, coming up this Saturday is Mountain Chicken Day! The public is invited to the interpretation center in the Botanic Gardens and there will be lessons on how to swab frogs for skin samples to detect chytrid, a scavenger hunt to discover frog facts, colouring books, crosswords, prizes, and all sorts of herpetological fun! I've been doing super exciting intern duties of sharpening pencils and folding origami frogs, but they are using the flyer I made to promote the event!
More to come soon about writing workshops and other frog-related news. <3
|another Dominican endemic species: Anolis oculatus|
|treefrogs carry chytrid but aren't affected|
we study these cuties too!
|Mountain Chicken Frog Project logo|