Giant Ditch Frog (Leptodactylus fallax), Critically Endangered
The Giant Ditch Frog, also known as the Mountain Chicken by locals due to its size and the taste of its flesh, is confined to two small islands in the Carribbean: Montserrat and Dominica. Although it used to inhabit several other nearby islands, it's total current range on the two islands is less than 50 km squared.
What caused it's decline? Environmental factors such as hurricanes and volcanoes may have played a part, as well as over-harvesting for food, with an estimated annual take of 8,000-36,000 (the government imposed a hunting ban on this former national dish, when populations started to decline).
Adding to the dilemma of this critically endangered amphibian is the world wide chytrid fungus crisis, a disease that is decimating frog populations around the globe. Although the island of Dominica has been infected since 2002, the island of Montserrat managed to remain disease free--until recently. In late 2008 or early 2009 the fungus made the jump to Montserrat and is currently decimating the Giant Ditch Frog population there, killing hundreds in just the past few weeks.
Fortunately, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have stepped in to help save this rare animal. Going into an area of healthy frogs where the disease had not yet reached, conservationists have successfully removed 50 individuals and airlifted them to Europe for use in a captive breeding program. Twelve of the Frogs will go to the ZSL, 12 to Durrell Wildlife, and the remaining 26 will go to Parken Zoo in Stockholm. The frogs will be kept in special biosecure housings to prevent infection by the chytrid fungus.
The goal is to breed the frogs and reintroduce individuals to disease-free areas of Montserrat within two years. Although the frogs have been bred in captivity before, it is a difficult process, as they have huge appetites and have unusual breeding habits for frogs. After digging a hole in the ground and filling it with foam, the female deposits 15-50 tiny eggs. The eggs hatch and develop into tadpoles, all in this isolated foam nest. For food, the mother deposits unfertilized eggs every few days for the young to feed on.
Although the captive breeding program promises hope for the Giant Ditch Frog, more needs to be done. Durrell Wildlife is currently raising funds to build an additional bio-secure facility to house these endangered frogs. For as little as 10 pounds (15 USD, 18 CAD), you can support the care of a Giant Ditch Frog. Donate or shop online or call Natalie Ranise on 01534 860013 (UK).