An interview with Joshua Ralph, Batrachologist and Conservationist with MantellaMan Conservation, an Amphibian Survival Alliance Partner.
Amphibians the world over are facing probably the world’s most serious extinction crisis. What are your thoughts on the future prospects for amphibian conservation and preventing further extinctions?
Personally, I find it isn’t entirely productive thinking of what is going to happen or what might happen and you can get lost in the depressing state these animals are in. Instead, looking at the now, the present is more productive… You can’t change the past (unless you’re Marty McFly), but you can change the future with what we do now and how quickly we act to slow down or hopefully, halt the extinctions of hundreds of species.
I won’t deny, I see it like wading through a swamp, every step you take can make you anxious and fill with dread, not knowing if your next step is going to make you sink lower or rise above it. But, if we all work together I think we can get through it, make changes and save some species before they are lost forever to the abyss that is, extinction.
What do you think are some of the most promising developments in the fight to prevent further amphibian population declines?
Some of the most promising? There are already so many developments in the world that deserve recognition and I think one great example is the Amphibian Survival Assurance Centre of Andasibe facility at Association Mitsinjo. This isn’t just because of the successful conservation breeding of some of the country’s most threatened species of Amphibia, but also for the changes they have made to some of the local towns folk in the region, most of which it has changed their lives entirely.
Some of the staff members at the facility have contributed, in the past, to the decline of certain species of Amphibia but now they are maintaining breeding colonies of threatened species at Association Mitsinjo, performing screenings for Chytridiomycosis in the local areas and most of all, showing others how important it is to maintain their country’s wildlife.
Another development that I think is highly promising, regarding the future of our planets Amphibia, is the increase of the public’s awareness of the demise of these fascinating and beautiful form of life. With social media, awareness events and even in educational curriculums people are becoming more and more aware not only of the risks these animals face, but also about some of the behaviours exhibited and the vast biological diversity that can be found which needs saving.
Why did you join the Amphibian Survival Alliance and what are you doing to help protect amphibians?
We joined the ASA to try and make a contribution to the hard work they are already performing and raise even more awareness regarding the demise Amphibian life across the globe with a particular focus on Madagascar, the “island of marvels” as I like to call it.
MMC is dedicated to trying to raise awareness in any way possible, from performing educational talks to writing informative blogs and sharing information. But it has also been created to perform work in situ, by offering help at facilities such as the one found in Andasibe with the husbandry and breeding of these threatened species or even performing research that could itself make a difference.
What can the average person, as well as the private sector, do in order to tangibly and actively participate in amphibian conservation?
Keep on raising awareness, by sharing information even you, yourselves have learnt about regarding these animals and with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it isn’t exactly difficult to do so. It takes a mere click to share something or but a few moments to have a read into a certain topic.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, what religion you believe in, you can make a difference no matter how small you believe it to be by continuing to spread information to your family, friends, colleagues and so on.
Some of you that are now reading this blog entry may know me already, but from those of you that don’t or haven’t read my ‘About Me’ section on my website, then please allow me to introduce my self, my name is Joshua Ralph and I am a Batrachologist, Conservationist and Zoo Keeper. Now, some of you that aren’t really familar to animal terminology my be wondering what on earth a ‘Batrachologist’ is, well it is a person who specialises in the study of Amphibia (Frogs, Toads, Newts, Salamanders and Caecillians) within the specific field of zoology.
I have always loved working with and keeping Amphibian species, and it is my upmost passion and a path I have chosen to work within since before the age of seven years old. As generalised as I try to be, I am incredibly biased towards the species found upon a very biologically important and completely unique island, this of course is Madagascar. For those of you that aren’t entirely aware of the island or infact knew it was a real place, let me give you some information regarding it.
MADAGASCAR IN AN OVERFLOWING NUTSHELL.
Measuring a grand total of 592,800 square kilometres (or 228,900 sq miles for those of you that prefer to use this form of measurement), it is recorded as the fourth largest island on the planet and with this quantity of land along with total island isolation, the wildlife upon it have had all this time to evolve into the life you can find today. Most of which are entirely endemic, as a matter of fact over 90% of all life on Madagascar can only be found upon it. Regarding Amphibia, currently there is thought to be roughly 300 species accounted for that have been described, however more are still awaiting appropriate description and even discovery out of all the species of Amphibia found on Madagascar, 99.5% of them are completely endemic. According to R. G. B. Perl and other researchers, in the article titled “DNA Barcoding Madagascar’s Amphibian Fauna”, it is listed that just over 500 species are to be found within their country of origin, but it is believed to inhabit a greater amount than above said quantity, by approximately 200 species.
These amazing animals, are currently in trouble (as is the case for a majority of life upon the island) with risks from highly invasive species such as the Asian Common Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and the deadly fungal infection, Chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) a fungal disease that has caused the extinction of many species across the planet already!!
CHYTRIDIOMYCOSIS – THE LETHAL AMPHIB KILLER.
Chytridiomycosis (or commonly known as Chytrid Fungus) is an emerging infectious disease to the class of Amphibians, caused by the aquatic fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). There are numerous Chytrid fungi members that can be found within the class of Chytridiomycetes. A lot of Chytrids are are what is known as Saprophytes, fungi living on the dead decaying organic matter, arguably making one of their most important ecological functions, decomposition. However Bd, is very unique in comparision to other Chytrids.
Having been first described in 1999, this new species was found to infect (with much success) Amphibian species. What makes this even more unusual, is the fact it is the only Chytrid to parasictically attack a vertebrate species and further more, specically only Amphibians. It is often highly contagious and infection predominately occurs inside the cells of the outer skin layers that contain large amounts of keratin. As you may be aware, Keratin is what hair, feathers and claws are made of and helps by making the outside of the skin tough and more resistant to injury. The biggest trait that Amphibians predominately have is a Permeable skin, which is highly important for Gaseous exchange that can take place with some of the class it also helps with the absorbtion of important salts (electrolytes) like sodium and potassium through the skin. Chytridiomycosis, changes that entirely, forcing the skin to become thicker due to Microscopic changes that are known as “hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis”. Abnormal electrolyte levels as the result of Bd-damage the skin causing the heart to literally stop beating and obviously killing the infected animal (Voyles et al., 2009 and in other species that are entirely dependant on their skin to breathe such as Lungless Salamanders, it causes suffocation.
Both fortunately and unfortunately, not all Amphibians die from this fungal infection, with some species being “resistant” to the adverse effects and instead becoming carriers. These species in particular, such as the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), are of major concern to all Amphibians susceptible to the fungus Zoospores, due to being able to spread the infection further and cause further damage to other populations and of course cause extinction. In approximately only 30 years, Bd has caused the catastrophic decline or extinction (in many cases within a single year) of at least 200 species of frogs, even in pristine, remote habitats (Skerratt et al. 2007) some of them iconic such as the Australian Gastro-brooding Frogs (Rheobatrachus) and the neotropical Golden Toad (Incilius periglenes).
I wish to raise money for my associate partner, the Amphibian Survival Alliance (Amphibians.org) and their projects to eliminate the threats that Madagascar’s amphibians are facing, by doing something unusual and difficult.
THE PILGRIM’S WAY (UK)- WINCHESTER TO CANTERBURY SPONSORED WALK. As a side hobby, on the weekends I re-enact 12th century Norman England with one of the UK’s premiere 12th century re-enactment societies, where I perform in unscripted and realistic combat displays. As a result, I own a lot of Norman period warriors attire, from real Maille (Chainmail as you may incorrectly know it), steel Helmets, heavy duty shields to even weaponry.
I wanted to do something a bit different to Skydiving or Bungee Jumping, and I finally decided that I will do a certain walk known as the Pilgrim’s Way, a 119+ mile pilgrimage route from Winchester (Hampshire, UK) to Canterbury (Kent, UK), a journey taking 12-14 days in total. However, I am not just doing a walk, oh no, its far more interesting than that! I plan to do this wearing the full attire of a 12th century Norman warrior, head to toe clad in armour and clothing authentic to the period. (I will weigh all my clothing and equipment I will take I know what you are more than likely saying, “This has nothing to do with animals.” and “What does this have to do with Amphibians?” And my answer to that is, well, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with my passion and the conservation efforts currently taking place in Madagascar. Also, my own reasons for doing this walk has NOTHING to do with relgion, it is just something that I thought would be both challenging and interesting.
Anyway, I shall be posting again shortly and creating a section on my website that will be dedicated to my Fundraising event so please do share this page for now on Facebook, Twitter etc so we can all make a difference and save the Amphibians of Madagascar whilst we still can…
Thank you for reading,
Raising awareness of conservation efforts and issues in Madagascar.