by Daniel Nicholson (ZSL)
I guess the key question for the recovery of any critically endangered species in the wild is; “are they breeding?”. So is this the case for the critically endangered Mountain Chicken Frog (Leptodactylus fallax) on Dominica, of which there are believed to be less than 200 left, with an international consortium tasked with their conservation? Well, yes, it is, they are breeding successfully and in a number of locations across the island of Dominica. But what is even more promising news is that babies are surviving to adolescence and even after catastrophic events such as Tropical Storm Erika which devastated Dominica in August 2015, causing huge amounts of flood damage to central and coastal sections of the island.
The first ever juvenile frog I encountered in fact was sitting right in the middle of a flood damaged section of one of our transects. Due to his/her size it was clear this little chap had been born a month or two before TS Erika but managed to survive the event without a scratch. As my months on Dominica piled up so did the count of baby Mountain Chickens, we clocked up a couple more over the Christmas period, causing us to name one “Baby Jesus”, what else? We also found numerous gravid females hoping around and in one case sitting right next to a very large troubadour of a male. One of the key moments for me over my 8 months with the Dominican Mountain Chicken Project was on my very last night in Dominica (July 2016) I was able to find a baby frog less than 3 months old hopping around eating slugs. A great send-off I felt. However, the story does not end there! A month after I left Dominica one of the staff working on the project messaged me to inform me that they had found 9 baby mountain chickens that had just emerged from the nest. Mountain chickens create a foam nest for their babies rather than leaving them alone in freshwater. Babies normally emerge around the same time and hang around the immediate area for some time afterwards. So I think it is safe to say that, yes mountain chicken frogs are successfully breeding on the island of Dominica, and may they continue to do so!
Daniel J Nicholson MRes, B.Sc(Hons).