Bamboutos Egg’s Frog (Leptodactylodon axillaris)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 182520003
Conserving the Critically Endangered, EDGE-listed Bamboutos Egg Frog Leptodactylodon axillaris on Mount Bamboutos , Cameroon
- Conservation of Amphibians on Mount Bamboutos:
Final Report 2020
Conserving the critically endangered, Edge listed Bamboutos egg frog, Leptodactylodon axillaris on Mount Bamboutos,
Arnaud Marius Tchassem Fokoua
Cameroon is one of the most diverse countries in terms of amphibians (IUCN 2017). The Bamenda Highlands (the northern highlands of Cameroon), which include Mount Bamboutos, are an area of exceptionally high amphibian diversity and endemism. It harbors at least 100 species of amphibians. The mountains is home to 50% of all the threatened amphibians known to occur in Cameroon (Bergl et al., 2007). Unfortunately, increasing pressures from surrounding communities seriously threatens the biological resources of the mountain. Recent surveys indicate that threatened species still exist in the area but their habitats are fast disappearing (Tchassem et al., 2018).
The Bamboutos Egg Frog, Leptodactylodon axillaris, can be found only on Mount Bamboutos. Its restricted geographic range has led to the listing of the species as Critically Endangered (IUCN 2019). Interestingly, even on Mount Bamboutos, the egg frog can be found within very limited elevation range (between 2450 - 2600 m a.s.l.).
Despite it being an Alliance for Zero Extinction site, none of the natural habitats on Mount Bamboutos are officially protected. The mountain range has a high human population density, leading to historically extensive habitat loss. All habitats have been reduced in size or disturbed through various forms of human activities. The remnant forest habitat on the mountain which is so critical to the frog's survival is undergoing rapid conversion and degradation. Forest conversion and degradation is caused by agricultural activities by local farmers such as shifting cultivation, and bush fires. In addition, disturbance by cattle in the frog's riparian habitat is causing soil erosion and further degrading the frog's terrestrial and aquatic habitat. More recently, amphibian declines on Mounts Manengouba and Oku have been linked to disease infestation (chytrid fungus) that may be interacting with possible changes in climate (Hirschfeld et al., 2016, Doherty-Bone & Gvoždík 2017). This is consistent with certain species not being found on Mount Bamboutos (Tchassem et al 2019).
Knowledge of the frog's habitat requirement and population is important to be able to develop robust scientific intervention to save this species. However this information is very limited. A recent survey e found this species to be closely associated with forest habitat but detail information on population size and other autecological data is so far lacking (Tchassem et al. 2019).
Communities are key to developing and successfully implementing any successful conservation intervention that can save this species. The surrounding population constitutes over 1000 people belonging to two main groups: the natives and the non-natives, all subject to the administrative authority of the government's sub-divisional officer. The government structures notwithstanding, these local populations are have allegiance and respect for their traditional chiefs. The natives, mainly farmers and students, live in villages located around the mountain at an altitude of around 2,000 m.
The non-natives are mainly Fulani or Mbororos who are mostly exclusively breeders and live at high altitude, on the slopes of the mountain around 2500m where fresh grass that constitutes the basic food of their cows, sheep and goats, is available three quarters of the year (Gountié et al., 2012).
Poverty and unemployment remain the major driver behind unsustainable exploitation of the remnant forest along the slopes of this mountain. Thus, the local people have no choice but to exploit the resources of the mountain in a very unsustainable manner. They survive from the cutting and sale of firewood, and farming. Farming requires deforestation in order to create and extend cultivable lands and/ or establish pastures for overgrazing (Zephania, 2014). Being aware that the natural resource available from Mount Bamboutos is limited, there are few conflicts between breeders and farmers. Who the winners and losers are in this struggle is unclear. Irrespective of who the winner or loser is there is always a survival experience that no group can escape. On Mount Bamboutos, no "invisible" or marginalized group is identified, because here all the members of these different groups always have the right to own property, that is to say the same chance of owning cultivable land pertains for everyone. It is a matter of first come first served.
During this project, I worked closely with local communities to assess their knowledge and jointly develop conservation intervention. In addition, I discussed with them and we demarcated together strategic degraded areas of Leptodactylodon axillaris that need urgently to be restored. Awareness and sensitization allowed us to obtain abandon some sections of these strategic areas for the reproduction of target species that have been occupied by four families of farmers. Specifically, I organized sensitization events attended by local authorities and locals, during which we talked about amphibian conservation successes around the world and encouraged them, especially the farmers and shepherds, to be the champions of conservation on Mount Bamboutos. In addition to raising locals as champions for amphibian conservation, I counted on their involvement to identify priority areas for conservation of the target species (Leptodactylodon axillaris) and its habitats.
The species is an only survives at around 2400 m a.s.l. in forest, along slow-flowing streams. Only three breeding points of this species have been recorded on Mt Bamboutos so far, but we have confirmed this species (or a potentially new, similar species, if not, subspecies) occurs also on Mt Oku only in one pristine habitat, suggesting it might be as imminently threatened as previously thought. . Until it is confirmed as being conspecific to the Oku population, the population on Mt Bamboutos is to be treated as a separate species that is at high risk of imminent extinction.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CONSERVATION
Declare a protected area on Mount Bamboutos, greatly expanding the putative small forest reserve (highlighted by ERuDeF's webpages), with a strict protected zone at existing L. axillaris localities. This strict protected zone should extend from the summit of Bamboutos to the lower elevational limit of L. axillaris to maximise the potential habitat use for this species. Zones outside this can be used as buffers, permitting some access by surrounding communities where low impact use can be allowed, such as sustainable collection of non-timber forest products. This will likely be similar to the model of the Kilum-Ijim Forest Project on Mount Oku, where community forests (including land that was not naturally forested but with natural habitat). With the collaboration of the the Ministry of Forestry & Wildlife, we propose zoning, near to the summit above 2400 m a.s.l., that will cover known ranges of most of the threatened species of the mountain.
Direct forest restoration will be urgently carried out on the sites identified during the project, NOTABLY TREE PLANTING AND AFTERCARE. This would be best applied to sites that defragment forest patches and where natural regeneration is going to be slow.
Create a forest restoration plan that takes into account the indigenous tree species present and likely to have gone extinct from Bamboutos. This will likely require input from botanists
experienced with flora of the Bamenda Highlands, notably those in the Yaoundé Herbarium and Kew Botanic Gardens (UK)12,13.
Establish the value of montane grassland on Bamboutos for amphibians and other taxa such as reptiles and plants. It should be assumed that montane grassland is indeed valuable as all the endemic skink species on Bamboutos occur in high elevation grassland4. Forest restoration efforts should therefore avoid afforestation of grassland critical to the survival of these endemic reptiles.
Historically, failures of conservation measures are caused by the non-cooperation of local stakeholders. Involving local people in the planning and decision making process, including creating employment opportunities for them, is recommended. This would be a shift from exclusionary to participatory management strategies, which is a new paradigm in environmental management.
Awareness-raising on valuing natural heritage and the sustainable management of natural resources should be initiated for the youngest of primary and secondary schools around Bamboutos.
Targeted awareness-raising for livestock herders and farmers living around Mt Bamboutos to drawing their attention to the impact of bush fires and chemical pollution for both themselves and the wider environment. The aim would be to limit fires in natural habitats caused by the livestock grazers.
Inquiry to sustainable farming practices that maximize long term production and environmental safety. This will require engagement with the Ministry of Agriculture representatives at the local and regional level.
Seek alternative income-generating activities for communities living on Mount Bamboutos to reduce unsustainable dependence on the mountain's natural resources. These might include promoting ecotourism and agroforestry (partly in place by local Kingdom on Oku).
Explicitly link amphibian conservation efforts with general environmental sustainability, such as clean water, stable environments, better fertility, etc when communicating the work to the wider audience, especially locally stakeholders.
Create a community water management plan that reduces the abstraction of streams from Bamboutos to agriculture. This might include the creation of water catchments and water tanks for use by farmers.
Introduce a by-law to stop all cultivation of land within 5-10m of any water source, to protect water quality. The specific distance should be negotiated with the local communities.
Introduce drinking troughs for livestock to reduce the need for livestock to enter water sources for water.
Fence off water sources that: a) are important breeding habitat for target amphibian species; b) experiencing excessive incursion by livestock; c) naturally prone to disturbance by livestock.
There is a possibility that there have been many local extinctions of numerous species on Bamboutos since the 19th Century. Therefore, a review of potential species to reintroduce should be made, following careful appraisal of species based on the principle of "indigenous range"15.
Captive breeding of species at imminent risk of extinction, such as L. axillaris, W. mirei, P. steindachneri. This can be achieved through setting up of core facilities (breeding centres) in Cameroon, with guidance from international expertise on amphibian husbandry & disease, such as ZSL-London Zoo1617. The aim of breeding is to create safety net populations to boost numbers, and possibly use these to translocate species to sites they have been extirpated, while leaving the main in-situ population to grow without hindrance.
Continue permitting of research on amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), notably its role in the enigmatic amphibian declines, and investigating necessity for direct mitigation in-situ18, this concerns frogs like Wolterstorffina mirei and Werneria bambutensis.
Create a moratorium for all researchers to abstain from collection of voucher specimens of IUCN threatened species and declining species on well-studied mountains such as Bamboutos. This should not include mountains that have yet to be surveyed, where voucher specimens will be vital in event undescribed species are still present. Collections should however be restricted to no more than five individuals per morpho-species. Bamboutos has already sufficient voucher specimens to revise taxonomy of most taxa present.
All field works have been carried out by respecting and adhering to biosecurity to measures to prevent the spread of harmful organisms. This will involve checking, cleaning and drying all equipment between field sites.
- The document corresponds to the FINAL REPORT of my project. It includes findings relating to objectives fixed at the beginning of the project.
- Mohamed Bin Zahed Progress Report
Project 182520003 location - Cameroon, Africa