Just when things were coming to an end here on Montserrat for me as a volunteer, another adventure took off! I got the opportunity to spend a week with our sister mountain chicken project on Dominica, run by ZSL. The project members on Dominica have put a lot of work into setting up a facility for captured wild frogs to get a local breeding program going. There is also a PCR lab on the island, where the chytrid surveillance of the mountain chicken is the main task. The purpose of our visit was to exchange knowledge and experiences and for the Montserrat project’s main field officer Blacka to train his Dominican colleagues in the field work protocols used on Montserrat, including micro chipping skills. My secret plan was to have ears big as an elephant’s and eyes like an owl to learn as much as I could and trust me, it was a fantastic opportunity!
Dominica is located a few islands south of Montserrat and is the only other place on earth where mountain chicken still can be found. The chytrid fungus is however present on the island since 2002 and for many years things looked very grim for the frogs. Compared to Montserrat, Dominica is much bigger and the original habitat of the mountain chicken extensive. The island is breathtakingly beautiful with incredibly steep and densely vegetated mountains and soaring rivers. Although Dominica is a volcanic island with geothermal activity on display, no such activity has threatened the frogs. Instead, habitat has been severely altered by man’s hand. Yes, the frogs on Dominica live in suburbia!
It sure felt different to be lacing on my boots in the middle of a housing area. Were these guys trying to pull our leg, or were we actually going to find frogs here?! But we did, and more than one!! Imagine standing in a banana patch, with TVs blaring in the background and dogs barking in the yards and right in front of your eyes an adorable, healthy juvenile mountain chicken!!! And another one, of a different age group!!! Sorry about the terrible overuse of exclamation marks, but I think you guys get the picture. Nature’s ability to find a way never cease to amaze. Now we need to pay close attention to how things proceed to do the best we can to keep it going and learn how to smooth way in other places. The field work in Dominica will be very important!
There are no cane toads in Dominica, but plenty of tree frogs with plump little bellies to swab. One night we set out to do a tree frog survey, Montserrat style. The tree frogs on Dominica are of a different breed and have a different song, but to the naked eye they look the same, except some of the females are REALLY big. The change of habitat called for a slightly different approach though, but once a tree frog catcher, always a tree frog catcher…
The team on Dominica is a great bunch and we had lots of fun together doing everything from cleaning cricket boxes in the live food section of the captive facility, to gawking at thundering waterfalls and dripping rainforest when touring around the island.
However, there is after all no place like the home turf. Going back into Sweetwater again the day after returning to Montserrat, I heard myself exclaim: “Another day in Paradise! And Blacka nodded affirmatively with a proud smile.