This week in Montserrat, we had the rare opportunity of bringing mountain chicken awareness to Westminster. The newly appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, James Duddridge MP, visited Montserrat on his tour of the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories. We were very pleased to hear that the Minister had expressed an interest in the mountain chicken and were delighted when we were invited to give a talk to the Minister and other distinguished guests about the mountain chicken and the work we do to save this Critically Endangered frog here in Montserrat.
The call came last week and we were invited to a briefing at the Governor’s Office. We were told that the Minister is aware of the chytrid crisis affecting the mountain chicken frogs here in Montserrat and in Dominica, the only other place in the world where these giant frogs exist in the wild. The Minister wanted to learn more about the work Durrell and the Department of Environment here in Montserrat, together with ZSL and Chester Zoo in the UK, have carried out over the years to help save the mountain chicken from extinction. What we wanted to communicate was the importance of continuing the research and monitoring work we do, and ensuring that the long-term recovery plan for the mountain chicken receives the support and financial backing it needs. This was the perfect opportunity to win the highest level backing for our project!
The day of the Minister’s visit started with the helicopter carrying our important visitors flying in from Antigua and circling the active volcano in the South Soufriere hills. As Montserrat is a small island, we caught glimpses of the Ministerial delegation as the convoy passed on the road, accompanied by a police car with lights flashing and sirens on. The Minister was on a tight schedule and we had been asked to be ready and in waiting to give our presentation and show the short film ZSL has produced on the latest release of mountain chickens here in Montserrat (See video here). As we waited at the Governor’s Office, the importance of this visit was slowly dawning on us… but there was no time to get nervous as we soon heard the approach of the sirens and the Minister appeared through the doors.
Brief introductions were carried out – other guests included His Excellency Adrian Davis the Governor of Montserrat, the Honourable Deputy Governor Alric ‘Jim’ Taylor, and the Honourable Claude Hogan, Minister for Agriculture, Lands, Trade, Housing and the Environment of Montserrat. A very distinguished audience indeed! Our presentation focussed on the Darwin Initiative project ‘Enabling Montserrat to Save the Critically Endangered Mountain Chicken’ which was led by Durrell to trial pioneering conservation management techniques and conduct important research on chytrid fungus that is causing declines in amphibians worldwide. After the presentation, it was time for questions – funding of conservation programmes was recognised as one of the challenges we face. The UK Minister showed great interest in the work and the chytrid crisis affecting the mountain chicken and amphibians worldwide.
We were very pleased to have this opportunity to raise awareness about chytrid fungus and our work with the mountain chicken frog, and hope the Minister will have the opportunity to spread the message among his colleagues at Westminster. But after all the excitement of this State Visit, it was a relief to be back in the forest that evening, looking for the real star of the show – the ever-charismatic mountain chicken frog!