I was already in the Vohimana Forest around 30 years ago. It was one of the first raiforests that I ever visited. I was so amazed and so astonished by the beauty of the forest itself, and by the kindness of people living there. At that time the forest was simply called “an’ala”, that in Malagasy just means “the forest”. Under this name I published one of my first papers on the amphibians of Madagascar. In fact, during that visit I found two really beautiful Mantella species, living in syntopy. They were Mantella pulchra and Mantella baroni. At that time the ultimate and correct Latin name of pulchra was not known, and it was named as Mantella cowani pulchra. These two species lived (and still live) together and have very similar colourations. Incidentally they are both toxic, but they belong to two different phylogenettic clusters and are not so closely related. Mantella baroni has sharp colouration of the back, and scattered blue spots on the belly. Mantella pulchra has a much golden head, has a horse-shoe shaped throat bluish belly and reddish marks on the underside of the thighs. I assumed, in my scientific naivity, that they were a good example of Müllerian mimicry. Both toxic and with similar renforcing colouration. It has been with a sort of nostalgy that I visited again Vohimana (or “an’ala”), and I looked again at Mantella pulchra in the almost untouched habitat there. No, Mantella baroni I did not find it. I heard it but I wasn’t able to spot it (the photo that I put here is from another site “Amalonabe”, not so far). Vohimana appears as a beautiful forest, and is a really nice place where to carry out future herpetological studies and education activities.
mantella baroni from amalonabe
mantella pulchra vohimana
mantella pulchra vohimana flash marks
The Andasibe Forest where I am now hosts an incredible number of frogs. In Madagascar the endemic frogs and treefrogs are more than 420. Every time we pass in the forests of the large island we find new species. We have to struggle to describe them all: the problem is that most of them are so microendemic that the disappearance of one small forest fragment due to human activities can make disappear a distinct species, at a much accelerated rate. In Andasibe, Perinet, Analamazaotra, Maromizaha, Ambavaniasy and Vohimana the species number is much higher than 100. Their conservation is an imperative.
The presentation of the co-chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar, Andolalao Rakotoarison, occurred on the 7th March at the Espace OLEP at Ambatobe, Antananarivo. This was also the occasion to present the activities of the group for the conservation of the endemic frogs of Madagascar. Currently around 418 species are known for the Grand’Ile. Andolalao contributed to the implementation of this high number with the description of 26 new species of the miniaturised frog genus Stumpffia. The ASG will work to identify at least one site featured by the presence of a high number of species, and/or boosting the conservation of an iconic and threatened species, like Mantella cowanii. At the same time, great importance will be given to frog-oriented education. The ASG is collaborating actively with many other environmental institutions and ministerial authorities.
Sono esattamente 30 anni che frequento il Madagascar, isola che mi affascina tuttora. Quando ho iniziato a venire qui ben pochi pensavano alla conservazione delle sue rane, oggi note con oltre 350 specie. Adesso la soddisfazione è grande: sul nuovo biglietto da 100 Ariary svetta nella sua bellezza e la sua colorazione una Mantella baroni. Beh, fino a non tanto addietro del Madagascar si ricordavano i lemuri, le foreste, il mare. Non le rane…
It is exactly 30 years that I frequent Madagascar, an island that still fascinates me. When I started coming here very few people thought about the conservation of its frog fauna, today known with over 350 species. Now the satisfaction is great: on the new ticket of 100 Ariary there is the drawing of beautiful Mantella baroni. Well, until not so much ago of Madagascar they mentioned lemurs, forests, the sea. Not (yet) the frogs …
In the next weeks I will be in Madagascar to meet with friends and colleagues engaged in the conservation of Malagasy amphibians. This is a great honour for me, as Chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar. In particular, it will be the occasion to meet Andolalao Rakotoarison, the new ASG co-chair, and all the members of the scientific board of the CEPF (Critical Endangered Partnership Fund), Tsanta Rakotonanahary (Amphibian Program Leader) and Serge Ndriantsoa (Amphibian Program Officer). Together we will discuss of many aspects regarding the amphibian conservation, from direct actions, habitat preservation, chytrid prevention and education. On the 7th of March we will also organise a specific workshop to meet researchers, professors, politicians and present our policies of conservation.
A silent invasion is underway in Madagascar since some time. This is due to the worrying presence of the Asian common toad Duttaphrynus melanostictus, arrived on the large African island presumably in 2008. Most likely in containers from South East Asia used by the company Ambatovy, which deals with the extraction of Nickel and Cobalt (although this responsibility was always denied by them). Its distribution area is currently around Toamasina (Tamatave), the second largest city in Madagascar and its most important commercial port (information are available in Moore et al. (2015). An interesting article on The Guardian was recently published (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/24/madagascar-toxic-toads-lemurs-ecology-threat?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other) and gives some light on this problem. The fact is that this toad species is toxic, totally alien to the habitats and ecosystems of Madagascar and can cause the death of a considerable number of amphibian predators, totally unaware of its dangerousness.
An individual of Duttaphrynus melanostictus photographed around Toamasina
Beyond that, its rapid expansion and high reproductive rate pose together serious doubts about the possibility of control. It is estimated that there are currently at least 21 million of individuals on the territory, a number that makes any eradication work almost impossible. At present, then, no national control or prevention committee is active. In a country with very serious economic problems and a “daily income” of less than $ 2 per person it is evident that the control of an alien toad is not perceived as an urgent and treatable priority. Too bad that the greatest richness of the country is represented by its biodiversity and this toad can potentially put it at risk.