Dominica’s frogs at Paignton Zoo in Devon

Paignton Zoo in Devon, England, has joined a global conservation project with the arrival of one of the female frogs (leptodactylus fallax) rescued from Dominica and Montserrat to protect them from a deadly virus spreading through its habitats. The frog—one of the largest in the world weighing in at more than 2lbs—was eaten into near-extinction before the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano and the spread of the virus forced and airlift to several zoos around the world. The chytrid fungus is a disease which infects the skin through which many amphibians drink and breathe, and can cause adult frogs to become lethargic and die within a month.

The national dish of Dominica, the mountain chicken was so-called because of its large size and because its meat is said to taste like chicken. Its importance to Dominican culture is reflected in its inclusion in the national coat of arms. It is now listed as critically endangered and there are only about 160 individuals in captivity anywhere in the world. Paignton Zoo has taken receipt of its first mountain chicken, a four-year-old female from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust at Jersey Zoo via the Zoological Society of London. She is being kept under strict bio-security conditions to protect against the spread of disease.

Mike Bungard, curator of lower vertebrates, said: “We want to get used to the basic husbandry of the species before we take on more. The plan is for us to act as a holding station for first generation zoo born. The plan is to release these frogs into the wild, although that relies on overcoming the problems in the wild that caused the decline in the first place.” The wild population has declined by 80 per cent in the last 10 years and the species is now critically endangered.

There are thought to be just 8,000 individuals left, and the species is found on the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat, though its range formerly extended to Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Zoological Society of London are leading the conservation work.

Paignton Zoo head reptile keeper Rod Keen is going to Jersey Zoo at the end of the month to train to work with the species.

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