Click to read: Partnership to help protect Madagascar’s amphibians

Partnership to help protect Madagascar’s amphibians

A killer fungus that has wiped out populations of amphibians in many parts of the world has not been detected in Madagascar yet. However, experts fear that if the deadly chytrid fungus ever did strike, then many of the more than 290 described species endemic only to those shores could be gone for good. That’s why a team from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Chester Zoo are working with local conservation organisations to build the skills needed to respond to the threat of a disease outbreak, should it arrive.

Senior staff from Chester Zoo and Durrell and are currently in Madagascar to deliver a training programme which will equip local conservationists with the skills to establish safety-net populations of threatened amphibians in captivity.

Amphibians all over the world are being affected by the fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. The disease thickens amphibian skin preventing the movement of fluids in and out of their skin, which can lead to deadly heart failure.

Chester Zoo’s Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates Dr Garcia said:

“Amphibians already face lots of threats, most notably from habitat destruction and alteration, however the chytrid fungus could be the last nail in the coffin. It threatens many of the wild amphibian species around the globe with extinction and it’s probably the first time ever that a disease has threatened to wipe out an entire class of animals.

“There’s a very real chance of a new epidemic in Madagascar and that’s why it’s vitally important that careful, professional ex situ (captive) programmes are in place to protect against chytrid - it’s that big of a threat.

“On top of that, there are lots of unanswered questions about frogs in Madagascar full stop. Working with them in an ex-situ setting could reveal some vital information and help us understand how we can protect them in their own environment and how to restore wild populations, should it ever become necessary.”

Although 290 species of amphibian have been described in Madagascar, many more have been discovered and are yet to be named. To date more than 90% are endemic to Madagascar.

Head of Durrell Conservation Academy Jamie Copsey added: “We already know that a number of the amphibians unique to Madagascar are sensitive to the fungal disease. An introduction of chytrid fungus could therefore have a devastating effect. By working with local conservation organisations Durrell and Chester Zoo hope to exchange skills and increase the number of institutions within Madagascar with the capacity to establish captive populations that are most at risk from the disease.”

After seeing facilities already developed at the local community-based conservation organisation, Mitsinjo, Amphibian Specialist Group Co-chair for Madagascar Dr. Franco Andreone commented:

“A great deal of ingenuity and imagination has already been injected into conservation efforts in Madagascar by local organisations, in particular Mitsinjo. We are working with them to determine how we can use locally-available materials, such as plastic bottles and sponges, to make cheap but effective alternatives to equipment we can find abroad. The aim is to establish locally-run and effective captive breeding programmes that will make a significant contribution to the conservation of Madagascars unique and diverse amphibian fauna.”

The Chester and Durrell team will be joined by amphibian experts from the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group and Turin Museum, Italy to deliver the training. The project is being funded largely by EAZA (European Association of Zoo’s and Aquaria).

Posted 30 November 2012

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