As a herpetologist in Madagascar, I’ve spent 17 years researching wild amphibians and reptiles in my home country. During this time, I’ve witnessed the habitats of these unique animals shrink due to pressure from forest clearing, bushfire, slash-and-burn farming, mining, oil exploration and road construction.
More than 99 percent of Madagascar’s amphibians are found nowhere else on Earth, and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one-quarter of these species are classified as threatened with extinction.
Fortunately, we now have a critical resource to help the frogs fight back: a new amphibian captive breeding center.
Implemented by Malagasy authorities, IUCN’s Amphibian Specialist Group and the Mitsinjo Association — with support from CI and other NGOs — the Mitsinjo captive breeding facility was constructed in response to the growing threat of the chytrid fungus that has decimated amphibian populations worldwide. Although chytrid has not yet been detected in Madagascar, seven of the country’s amphibian species are already designated as Critically Endangered, and therefore at high risk of extinction if disease outbreaks should occur. The amphibian center will establish captive populations of the most threatened species as a reserve in case the fungus reaches the island.
Amphibians provide many important services to humans, such as controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops, and helping to maintain healthy freshwater systems. In 2008, CI-Madagascar organized the development of the Sahonagasy Action Plan (SAP), a national plan for amphibian conservation. This plan emphasized the emerging threat posed by the chytrid fungus and the need to develop the capacity within Madagascar to detect and monitor the disease, and to develop in-country breeding facilities for disease-free frog populations. Captive breeding will also help to combat the combined action of habitat destruction, illegal and unsustainable collection for the international pet trade, and the impacts of climate change.
The facility currently houses about 33 frogs representing six species from the Andasibe region. Until now, no one in Madagascar had the knowledge or capacity to breed these frogs in captivity. As a result, we will first focus on breeding common species that have similar habits and habitats to threatened species as we build our husbandry skills. Once we can master captive-breeding techniques, we will deal with the more threatened species. This captive breeding program also provides an opportunity to gather information on the life history of these frogs.
There are many challenges to this kind of work. Besides the strict hygiene standards and the risk of disease transmission between the frogs, feeding the frogs is an especially difficult skill to learn. Live food is critical for the frogs’ survival, but it can be difficult to determine the precise quantity and nutritional balance that the animals need. This skill is, of course, crucial for the success of the center. Our captive breeding specialist has so far trained six technicians on caring for live frogs.
We are still in the early stages of this project; eventually, we plan to develop educational programs that will showcase the value of Madagascar’s frogs and their habitats to local people, and generate money through ecotourism.
In the coming year, we hope to increase the number of species bred at the facility — bringing us a step closer to safeguarding the future of these fascinating creatures.
Nirhy Rabibisoa is amphibian executive secretary at CI-Madagascar.