Mountain Chicken frogs are back in Montserrat

by Luke Jones - January 2, 2020

Mountain Chicken Project has had a particularly busy 4 months. Frogs are being kept in a semi-wild enclosure and checked regularly to see whether they can persist in the wild with the chytrid fungus. The release of frogs in Montserrat is part of a big conservation effort that is built on past research and the project is currently funded by Taronga Zoo, National Geographic and the Balcombe Trust.

We are very happy to share this successful conservation story with you!

The enclosure

In May we completed the construction of two in-situ, semi-wild enclosures designed to counteract environmental Bd. fungus using environmental manipulation techniques that focus on creating warmer areas that act to purge mountain chickens suffering from chytridiomycosis of the fungus. Over the following month we continued to adapt the enclosure so that it would be ready to receive captive bred mountain chickens from the bio-secure populations at Jersey Zoo and ZSL.

We introduced “smart” heated ponds which utilise solar panels and internal management devices to maintain pond temperatures between 28-31 degrees centigrade (the temperatures at which Bd. stops replicating and experiences mortality), introduced plenty of hides and cool spaces, native and endemic plants and started supplementing the enclosure with live prey such as cockroaches and crickets bred at our live food facility and young ground lizards and anoles found wild within the enclosure.

The release

The 9th July saw a huge effort in coordination between Durrell, local partners and partners at ZSL to transport 28 captive bred mountain chickens back to Montserrat ready for release into the enclosure.

Once we landed the mountain chickens were quickly escorted to holding ponds we had constructed at the national trust, where they were all thoroughly health checked, rehydrated with ringers solutions and fed a good meal of crickets after their long journey by both Durrell, Department of Environment and ZSL staff.

Although we sadly lost 1 female in the 30+ hr journey from Jersey to Montserrat all other individuals (27 in total) were in peak health and even started calling as soon as they were released into their holding ponds! They spent 3 days under close supervision at the Trust after which we did two separate releases (which involved quick morphometrics, Bd. and microbiome swabbing during the round up process) into each enclosure. Both went exceptionally well and we were even blessed with the first rain in over six weeks to welcome the frogs into their new homes.

So far, we have already seen signs of attempted mating’s; scratches from the males spurs on the females sides, couples in amplexus and even the beginnings of our first foam nest.  It really has been something quiet special hearing their calls joining in once again with the night-time sounds of the island.

Next steps

We now have several weeks ahead of us, carefully monitoring and observing their progress as they settle into their new surroundings, to help with this other partners in the project (Bristol, ZSL, Chester, Norden’s Ark) are sending out their own expert mountain chicken keepers and staff to provide additional incites and to critique and develop the husbandry processes we are undertaking here on island.

They are also currently helping with reassessments of historical mountain chicken range, with the hope identifying any wild survivors that may already possess innate levels of resistance to the Bd. fungus.

Watch this space for news and updates on the Mountain Chicken Project!