Following violent eruptions of the Soufriere volcano, the Government of Montserrat contacts Durrell to assist in assessing the impacts on a number of native species including the mountain chicken frog and endemic Montserrat oriole. Following visits by Durrell staff, nine mountain chickens are caught and brought to Jersey to establish a safety-net population.
The breeding strategy for this species was previously unknown until the females were filmed making a foam nest in an underground burrow and feeding tadpoles with unfertilised eggs. Durrell is the first institution in the world to breed the species in captivity which will prove vitally important when the wild population undergoes a major collapse.
Caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), this disease has devastating impacts on the Dominican mountain chickens causing a decline of over 80% of the population in just 18 months. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) reacts by taking a small population into captivity and launches a Darwin project which aims to limit any further impacts of this disease.
Surveys estimate an 80% decline in the Dominican population of mountain chickens just 18 months after the arrival of the deadly Bd fungus. Durrell staff submit the Red List assessment which is published by the IUCN. The only remaining healthy population now exists on Montserrat which has been threatened by violent volcanic explosions since 1997.
A five year Species Action Plan is developed for the Montserrat mountain chicken, the only healthy and viable population of the species in the world. Objectives are developed during a participatory workshop and focus on enhancing island biosecurity to prevent the arrival of the Bd fungus and to reduce unsustainable hunting pressure from humans.
Durrell is called in by the Government of Montserrat when ponds full of dead mountain chickens are reported. An emergency visit by staff to the island confirms the presence of the deadly Bd fungus; 50 frogs are immediately transported to specialised biosecure facilities at Durrell, ZSL and Parken zoo where they will be kept under quarantine conditions.
As part of a pioneering study, wild mountain chickens are caught and treated with an anti-fungal agent in an attempt to protect the frogs against the effects of chytridiomycosis. Whilst some individuals show initial signs of resistance to the disease, the treatment does not protect them in the long-term and, like on Dominica, the wild population crashed.
Conservation efforts by partners are brought together under one central programme; the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (MCRP). Experts from the Governments of Montserrat and Dominica as well as Durrell, ZSL and Chester Zoo commit to safe-guarding the future of the species which is threatened with extinction.
The three-year project is funded by the Darwin Initiative and is led by Durrell in collaboration with the Government of Montserrat and ZSL. The aim of the project is to enable Montserrat to save the Critically Endangered mountain chicken through a programme of research, experimental reintroductions, public engagement and the development of a long-term restoration strategy.
A total of 64 mountain chickens were flown from Jersey to Montserrat and released as part of a study under a programme of globally important research. A number of frogs will be released over three years under varying conditions to study differences in survival rates and to determine whether releases can be considered a viable conservation strategy in the future.
Guiding conservation efforts for the species until 2033, the strategy is developed by MCRP partners alongside key representatives from both Montserrat and Dominica. An international workshop is held in Montserrat and is funded by the Darwin Initiative. This strategy is instrumental in securing long-term commitment to mountain chicken conservation.
Amphibians are the most threatened vertebrate group, with over a third of species threatened with extinction. However, the international response has not been sufficient to address the 'amphibian crisis'. Durrell launches the Save Amphibians From Extinction (SAFE) programme to identify and target the amphibian species most in need of conservation action.