“The harlequin frog is rapidly becoming Madagascar’s most threatened species. Found only in a handful of very remote sites in the central massif-it has been affected by widespread habitat destruction and collection for the pet trade.
“The species also has the unfortunate luck of being in one of the few places chytrid fungus-a deadly fungus that has wiped out a large proportion of the globe’s amphibian populations-has been identified in Madagascar. With all this stacked against them-the harlequin mantella frogs are trying to adapt to a habitat now devoid of forest-eroded to the point of exposed rock and bathed daily in strong sunlight which raises the temperature to well above their preferred optimum.
“To survive in these conditions the frogs have altered their activity patterns rising before dawn to feed on the moist dew covered rocks before the sun raises the temps too high. As the temperatures rise the frogs retreat underground into fissures cracks and caves amongst the rocks here in the cool moist environment the frogs can be heard calling.
“Here on this altered habitat the MaVoa team get up before the frogs-negotiating the slippery rocks to survey the habitat-each frog is observed before being caught measured and weighed as well as having their bellies photographed as a form of identification.
“Each frog has its own unique pattern of pale blue to white markings on a jet black belly making them identifiable without the need for elastomer injections or microchips.
“Over the time I was there the team identified 50 plus individuals-however twelve months previous the number had been almost triple that!
“This decline is not fully understood-over the last few years surveys have not revealed any signs of active reproduction at the site and although the frogs could easily be reproducing in the network of underground caves this has not been confirmed.
“The team were heading to a second site where the habitat is less altered. Previously-at this site the team had found small numbers of frogs-however this year’s survey revealed not a single frog over a two week period of intense searching. The future for this species is not looking good at all…
“My role whilst I was there was to set up and deposit data loggers across the site to collect environmental data from the exposed rock faces-the caves and crevices and the few small streams and rivulets nearby. This data will be used to create a picture of the habitats utilised by this species-in the hope we can recreate the niches needed by the frogs in case a time comes when the frogs have to be taken in to captivity to prevent their total extinction.”
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