Dominica's Crapaud or Mountain Chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) is one of four species of amphibians found on the island. The three other small frogs are the Gounouj, the Tink frog and the Johnston's Piping Frog. The Crapaud is found only in Dominica and Montserrat, and the Gounouj, first discovered in 1994, is found in no other place in the world but the highlands of Dominica.
Geographical distribution and habitat
The Crapaud is distributed mainly on the west coast at elevations below 1,200 feet. A few very small scattered populations can be found on parts of the east coast. The Crapaud lives in different habitats especially in close proximity to moist areas bordering close to rivers and springs. They are mostly nocturnal in nature, feeding on small insects and molluscs.
The Mountain Chicken has traditionally been used as meat mostly as a protein supplement for rural folk. Under Nature Tourism, the new and emerging brand of tourism, visitors travel not only for sand and sea but also for culture and nature. Dominica’s cuisine is integral to its eco-tourism product. People visit here not only to enjoy its natural beauty they also come and enjoy local dishes. Such a situation has given rise to a corresponding desire to consume a rare delicacy, Dominica’s Mountain Chicken. The frog is not only an endemic species it also has cultural values as a national icon. It is eloquently displayed on the national coat of arms, and even on logos of prestigious, local institutions such as the National Bank of Dominica.
Locations of disease outbreak
Locations of Chytridiomycosis outbreak in Dominica
Since the 1980's, worldwide amphibians have been declining. One of the reasons is the emergence of the epidemic fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. On the 3rd December 2002, the first outbreak of chytridiomycosis was reported in Dominica. Although it was not yet diagnosed, the disease quickly spread and within six months large numbers sick, dying and dead frogs had been found in many parts of the island. The disease was first reported in Gallion; it has spread quickly with reports of dead Crapaud in La Haut, Bagatelle, Soufriere, Fab, Elmshall, Coulibistrie, Dublanc Valley and Milton Estate.
Between December 2002 and March 2004, an estimated 70% of the population of Mountain Chicken was killed by the fungus. Since then there are still indications that the disease is still lingering and threatening the remaining population. There are fears in certain quarters that few remaining animals may fall prey to the disease. We do not yet know what effect the disease is having on Dominica’s other amphibians.
The Chytrid Fungus as seen under an electron microscope
Chytridiomycosis is an infectious fungal disease affecting a range of amphibians, frogs, toads, salamanders and the like. Chytridiomycosis is associated with amphibian population crashes worldwide: USA (8 states and 11 species); Panama and Costa Rica; Ecuador; Europe; Australia (44 species in eastern and western states); and infected animals have recently been reported in South Africa and Kenya; South Island, New Zealand; Germany, and Uruguay. As far as scientists know only amphibians are at from this disease.
The fungus attacks the surface layers of a frog's skin that have keratin in them. Since frogs use their skin in respiration, this makes it difficult for the frog to breathe. The fungus causes skin ulcers and, reddening and shedding of the skin. It also damages the nervous system, affecting the frog's behaviour.
is a type of protein found in hair, skin, feathers, fur and scales. It forms a tough, impervious, waterproof layer that protects animals, stopping unwanted substances in the outside world from getting into their bodies. Because frogs breathe through their skin, their skin needs to be thin, moist and pervious to things from the outside. Frogs absorb oxygen from the air or water through their skin, so if their skin was full of keratin, they wouldn’t be able to.
Source: Keratin in a frog's skin: how Chytrid fungus spreads
Frog that has died due to the fungus
A sick frog may:
- have discoloured skin (reddened) particularly the ventral region of the frog
- sit out in the open, not protecting itself by hiding, but most were found in areas of stagnant water
- be lethargic and anorexic
- die within 48 hrs of appearance of symptoms
Possible means of transmission
Chytrid fungus is transferred:
Source: Humans Department of Environment & Conservation (NSW)
- by direct contact between frogs and tadpoles
- through exposure to infected water (the disease may not kill frogs immediately, and they can swim or hop to other areas before they die, spreading fungal spores to new ponds and streams)
- wet or muddy boots and tyres, fishing, camping, gardening or frog survey equipment may also be contributing to the spread of the disease
- by hunters
What is being done
In response to this disease threat several actions were taken. A hunting ban was placed immediately on all forms of hunting of the Mountain Chicken. As well as a surveillance network is being set up encourage the public to report all sightings of the Crapaud, whether healthy, sick or dead and a public education effort. Educational materials are being distributed to schools, cruise ships, tour operators, extension officers and others to spread the news that Chytridiomicosis is indeed a threat to our amphibians and efforts have to be made to prevent possible extinctions of an important link in Dominica's biodiversity.
Also the Darwin Initiative Project began on the 1st of April 2005. The Veterinary Services Division, and the Forestry and Wildlife Division under the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment have teamed up with several international conservation organisations including the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Chester Zoo, and Fauna and Flora International (FFI) to develop a programme to further research of the disease. The project is funded by the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of the Species under UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (Defra). The result is a programme set up to:
- conduct field research
- establish a molecular biology facility for rapid diagnostics, and a captive breeding programme.
- training opportunities in amphibian research for Dominicans and colleagues from the neighbouring countries.
The project is expected to run for three years.
A healthy frog
What can I do?
- Do not touch frogs, unless when absolutely necessary. Use disposable gloves, sample bags and sterile equipment.
- Never move frogs from one area to another, or off the island.
- Control imports of frog parts from countries affected with this disease.
- Report sightings of any Mountain Chicken, healthy, sick or dead, to the Forestry and Wildlife Division at the Botanical Gardens.
Our Mountain Chicken is now at risk of extinction. As a national dish and a national icon it is imperative that the Mountain Chicken be saved from this fungal epidemic.