Mountain Chicken Off The Menu In Dominica Until Stocks Replenished.

image: Courtesy of Government of Dominica. The country's coat of arms includes a frog in the top right quadrant of the shield.
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A huge frog that has traditionally been a significant part of the cuisine of the  Caribbean island of Dominica was on the verge of becoming extinct, but now the diligent efforts of frog fanciers are beginning to show some success in saving the species for local tables.

The mountain chicken frog, officially known by its Latin name, Leptodactylus fallax, was once considered Dominica’s unofficial national dish, according to locals, though memories are now fading amongst the younger population.

“When I used to cook it, I would just cut it and put it into a broth,” Alain Mellow told the BBC, as he sold fruit and vegetables in Roseau, the capital city of Dominica.

It tasted “just like chicken”, according to Mr Mellow, who is now in his 70s, and believes the nutrients from the mountain chicken frog have contributed to his good health.

Another local name for the mountain chicken is “crapaud” (the French word for toad), a reminder of Dominica’s past as a French colony.

There were different ways to cook the four-legged creature. Some preferred to include it in a stew, while others enjoyed  the deep-fried golden-brown crunchy frog

The historical importance of the mega-frog is highlighted by its presence on the Dominca national coat of arms.

However, anyone visiting a restaurant on the Eastern Caribbean island now, or over the last two decades, may not have even heard of the mountain chicken frog as a delicacy.

Kenasher Valmond, who works at a café near the sea port in Roseau, says she has never eaten mountain chicken.

“I’ve never seen it,” says Ms Valmond, who is in her 20s. “I just heard people speaking about it.”

According to experts, the main reason for the frog’s disappearance from dining room tables and its decline in popularity among younger people is an infectious amphibian disease called chytridiomycosis.

“In a span of a year-and-a-half we lost almost 90% of the mountain chicken population in Dominica,” Jeanelle Brisbane, a wildlife ecologist in Dominica, tells BBC News.

“It was one of the fastest amphibian declines on record in our history.” That has led to the frog now being listed as critically endangered.

The frog is one of the largest in the world, and can grow up to 2.2lb in weight according to the Zoological Society of London,  but it was no match for the deadly microscopic fungus.

The chytrid fungus began wreaking havoc in Dominica around 2002, according to researchers.

The frog is also barely hanging on Montserrat another Caribbean island to the north. but fortunately some of the frogs were put into captive breeding programmes in Montserrat before they disappeared completely.

In Dominica, before the fungus struck, harvesting the frog from the wild was a booming business, with studies finding up to 36,000 frogs being hunted each year.

Several partners, including ZSL and Dominica’s forestry division, have come together as part of the Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme.

During a population count conducted last year in parts of the island the frog was known to inhabit, only 21 frogs were found alive in the wild.

Researchers at ZSL say that while the total number of mountain chicken frogs in Dominica’s forest is probably higher than the 21 they located, it is unlikely to add up to more than 30.

“They were one of the apex predators on the island, so losing those has potential ripple effects in terms of pest control,” says Benjamin Tapley, a Curator of Herpetology at ZSL.

In March, ZSL announced the appearance of six mountain chicken froglets at London Zoo, after two of the frogs that were brought from Montserrat successfully bred for the first time in five years.

It is hoped that those mountain chicken frogs that are living in captivity will be spared from the cooking pot and continue to participate enthusiastically in the breeding programme.

Sources: BBC,
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