Frogs in the Fog

by Tsanta Fiderana Rakotonanahary - January 15, 2015

Mantidactylus mocquardi endemic to Ankaratra

Just coming back from the North-west of Madagascar, where  the temperature is above 37°C and the altitude is below 300m, going to Ankaratra was a bit challenging. At more than 2000m high and 7°C during the day, I was asking myself, what motivates me to come here?  But when I got on the top of the hill, I was enjoying a lot the view and I don’t regret what I am doing. I feel so lucky to get that opportunity.  Indeed, I am proud of myself that I can contribute to the conservation of the Malagasy amphibians, our richness, which was my real mission to Ankaratra.

Ankaratra is the only location of two Critically Endangered frogs, Boophis williamsi and Mantidactylus pauliani. As such it is one of the most important amphibian sites not only in Madagascar but the world, identified as an Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) site. They are threatened by loss of the native forest; contamination of the streams due to burning of vegetation and now chytridiomycosis. We were here to undertake extensive surveys for chytrid as part of the National Monitoring Programme. Being high altitude and with highly threatened species Ankaratra is one of the highest risk areas of Madagascar for this deadly disease.

Serg swabbing in AmbohimirandranaSweating after one hour of climbing and trekking on a very slippery path, and getting cold again because of the massive fog all day, I couldn’t take off my jacket even for one second. I won’t survive. I think, I felt the same cold a long time ago, when I visited Jersey, so, Ankaratra reminded me all the good time I spent over there 🙂 .

The first day, we went to the farthest site, Tsimiaramianadahy, about one and half hour walk from the campsite. That name means “brother and sister don’t go together” in Malagasy. The way there is very windy and as Malagasy women very often wear large dresses, it is taboo that the brother would see her intime body part. Our strategy was to go to the difficult one in the morning and in the afternoon work at an easier site.  The good news was there were not many changes in Tsimiaramianadahy compared to our last trip up there. In the afternoon, we worked in Tavolotara, a site nearby the campsite and where the habitat is still good.

The Tavolotara camp site

The Tavolotara camp site

Just arrived waiting for the portersThe second day, we went to Ambitsika and Maharavana, still on the top of the hill. Maharavana and Ambitsika were not in our list at the beginning but Faly, an expert of the amphibians of Madagascar suggested that it would be interesting to go there because of they represent two specific cases.  Habitat in Maharavana is almost intact, probably, because of its geographical range being far away from human habitation. Unfortunately, Ambitsika is totally the opposite and the frog’s habitat is almost gone. Lots of deforestation are going on and the stream is about to disappear :(.  There was a massive fog during that second day. We even had to stop at some times because when the fog is too heavy – it’s like rain in the tropical rainforest but also very cold. Our hands were freezing and couldn’t move at all. This was the same on the third day, where we went to Ambohimirandrana and Analafoy. We had to stop too because of the very massive cold fog. So much that we couldn’t even see each other, so, we went to find a shelter and wait until the temperature increases a bit.

The cold and fog made catching frogs even harder! Catching frogs in Ankaratra is not really my talent. They all live in fast flowing streams and many are small and brown sitting among small, brown rocks! I can spot them sometimes but I never caught one, so, I even didn’t try to avoid disturbing the water, so, our very talented frog catchers would be quicker. Rather than going into the stream, I went to find where we can have a sit, stay warm and swab the frogs as they are brought to me. In total we found seven species including lots of M. pauliani and only three B. williamsi, though this is not very surprising as B. williamsi is rarely found in large numbers.

Tadpole ready for swabbing

After finishing all works up on the hill, we went down to the village, finishing our work in Ambatolampy. That was a relief. It was warmer. Then, it was home to Tana where of course, we must stop in our favourite restaurant in Behenjy. Jeff, you know where it is 🙂

In summary we reached our goal in terms of number of sample and even exceeded our expectation taking over 400 swabs. I can’t find the right word to thank everyone for their great work, we were the best team ever. Our days were made of laughter and we enjoying a lot what we did. Special thanks to Serge, who was always sitting next to me, supporting my moods, both good and bad!

The team during the trip

The trip team: Mr Jean, Ingahy Fara, Zaka, Mme Olga, Serge and Tsanta