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Endangered frogs taken off island

SCIENTISTS are airlifting dozens of one of the world's largest frogs off Montserrat island to save them from a deadly fungus.

The dense forest of this tiny British Caribbean territory is the last remaining stronghold of the critically endangered mountain chicken frog, a 0.9-kilogram, frying pan-size amphibian that got its name because locals say its meat tastes like chicken.

Once eaten as a delicacy, the frog, which sounds like a small howling dog when it croaks, was hunted and much of its habitat on Montserrat was destroyed by a volcano. Now experts fear a virulent fungus could decimate the few thousand frogs they estimate survive.

"Its impact has been catastrophic," said Andrew Cunningham, senior scientist with the Zoological Society of London. "The mountain chicken frog has been virtually wiped out."

Experts have found 300 dead frogs since the fungus surfaced in late February, said Gerardo Garcia, director of the herpetology department at the British-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

To save the frogs, scientists are giving some of them anti-fungal baths and flying dozens at a cost of US$14,000 to zoos in Britain and Sweden. About 50 have been flown off the island.

Frogs should ideally be kept in their natural habitat, but flying them out was the only short-term solution, said Andrew Terry, Durrell's conservation manager.


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