Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fleeing Frogs from Montserrat

A deadly fungus is making frogs croak on the tiny island of Montserrat.

Scientists are airlifting dozens of one of the world’s largest frogs off of Montserrat island to save them from a deadly fungus devastating their dwindling habitat. The dense forest of this tiny British Caribbean territory is the last remaining stronghold of the critically endangered mountain chicken frog, a 2-pound (0.9 kg), frying pan-size amphibian that got its name because locals say its meat tastes like — you guessed it — chicken.

Once eaten as a delicacy, the frog was hunted and much of its habitat on Montserrat was destroyed by the temperamental Soufriere Hills volcano. Now experts fear a virulent fungus could decimate the few thousand frogs they estimate survive.

“Its impact has been catastrophic,” Andrew Cunningham, senior scientist with the Zoological Society of London, said of the chytrid fungus. “The mountain chicken frog has been virtually wiped out.”

Experts have found 300 dead frogs and believe hundreds more have perished since the fungus surfaced in late February, said Gerardo Garcia, director of the herpetology department at the British-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

To save the frogs, scientists are giving some of them anti-fungal baths and scooping up dozens of others and flying them at a total cost of $14,000 to zoos in Britain and Sweden, where they live in temperature-controlled rooms with automatic spray systems. About 50 have been flown off the island.

I’ve been to Montserrat twice, in 1993 and 1994, and I even once tried the frogs legs for dinner (and they’re right, they do taste like chicken). But now that they’re under the threat of extinction, I hope they make it out safe and sound.