An unfortunate victim of hunting, disease, natural disasters and habitat loss, the mountain chicken population has recently undergone catastrophic declines, estimated at around 80 percent since 1995 (1) (2). On Dominica, this Critically Endangered frog is favoured for its meaty legs, which are cooked in traditional West Indian dishes, and which are in fact the country’s national dish (6). Annual harvests were thought to be taking between 8,000 and 36,000 animals before a ban on hunting was introduced and, as a result of this exploitation, the population on the island is thought to be near extinction (1).
The mountain chicken is particularly vulnerable to overharvesting as it has a relatively small brood size, limiting its ability to recover from heavy losses. The removal of breeding females is particularly damaging, as the tadpoles are dependent upon the females for food and moisture. The species’ large size, loud calls and tendency to sit in the open also makes it a particularly easy target for hunters (3).
The mountain chicken has also lost huge areas of its habitat to agriculture, tourist developments, human settlements and, on Montserrat, volcanic eruptions. On Dominica, the species is largely confined to coastal areas where there is great demand for land for construction, industry and farming, while on Montserrat, volcanic activity since 1995 has exterminated all populations outside of the Centre Hills (1) (3). Human encroachment upon the species’ habitat has also brought it into contact with a range of pollutants, including the highly toxic herbicide Gramazone, which is known to kill birds and mammals. Predation from introduced mammals, such as feral cats, dogs, pigs, rats and opossums, is also a relatively new threat to the species on Dominica (3) (7).
Perhaps the greatest, and least understood, threat to the mountain chicken today is the deadly fungal disease chytridiomycosis (1). This disease, which has wiped out many amphibian populations across the globe, became established on Dominica in 2002, and frog populations on the island declined by approximately 80 percent within 2 years (2) (7). The Dominican population is now so small that there may not be enough individuals to ensure the survival of the mountain chicken on this island. The fungus was introduced to nearby Montserrat in 2009, potentially via infected frogs hiding in shipments of fruit and vegetables. Like on Dominica, huge mountain chicken declines of 80 to 90 percent occurred. By July 2009, the last remaining healthy population of mountain chickens on Montserrat had succumbed to the disease (7).