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The mountain chicken is not, as its name suggests, a bird, but is in fact one of the largest frogs in the world.
It is found only on the Caribbean islands of Dominica and Montserrat. The mountain chicken’s numbers have been declining for many years, because it has long been the national dish of the islands. It is hunted in large numbers for its meaty legs, which are used in traditional West Indian recipes - and as their name suggests, they taste like chicken.
However, this year the situation has become desperate for those located on the island of Montserrat, with the recent arrival of a deadly amphibian disease called chytrid fungus. A rescue operation, headed by Durrell has kicked into action in order to offer a lifeline to the species following the death of hundreds of frogs in a matter of weeks.
In addition to the pressure placed on the mountain chicken population by the humans of Montserrat, since 1995, over 75% of the island has been engulfed in the suffocating and ongoing activity of the Soufrière Hills volcano. This volcano has destroyed much of the frog's remaining rainforest habitat and left the already threatened species in a very precarious situation.
Never before had this species been successfully bred in captivity and little was known about its reproductive biology. It was hoped that a captive breeding programme would be possible for these gigantic amphibians, and the investigation into the potential of this began at Durrell in 1999, when 13 frogs were rescued from the still smouldering habitat of their native Montserrat. Since that time captive chickens have been bred successfully and now form the basis of an essential ‘safety-net’ population in the event of their extinction in the wild.
Mountain Chicken - Courtesy National Geographic Television