By Raphali R. Andriantsimanarilafy, Franco Andreone, Olivier Behra, Angelica Crottini, Gerardo Garcia, Richard A. Griffiths, Candace M. Hansen-Hendrikx, Olivier Marquis, Andolalao Rakotoarison, Julie H. Razafimanahaka, and Devin Edmonds. ASG Madagascar

The amphibians of Madagascar are particularly interesting, as they are represented by over 360 described species of frogs (salamanders and caecilians are absent) and many others (at least 200) being described. These (except two introduced species) are all endemic, found only in Madagascar and nowhere else. The greatest danger to the survival of these amphibians is represented by deforestation, which is particularly important in Madagascar: since the 1950s, about 45% of Madagascar’s forest cover has been destroyed. To ensure the survival and protection of amphibians, the Sahonagasy Action Plan (sahonagasy means “frog of Madagascar” in the Malagasy language) was launched in 2006, and implemented in 2014. The conservation program for Malagasy amphibians was set up thanks to a collaboration between different organizations, also because biodiversity represents one of the first products for this country. Some species of amphibians from Madagascar are particularly threatened due to environmental alteration, deforestation and trade.

One of these is the Harlequin Mantella, Mantella cowanii. So named for its beautiful and contrasting red and black colour, sprinkled with bright blue spots on the belly, the Harlequin Mantella is one of the most endangered species in Madagascar. In particular, it received special attention from the ASG and the scientific community as it survives in only a few areas of the central “plateau” of Madagascar, a mid-high-altitude area affected by aggressive deforestation. Most of the high-altitude forests that once characterized the “plateau” have now disappeared, and with them many of the animals and biodiversity that were once present. The Harlequin Mantella has seen its range “evaporate “ over time due to repeated fires. Today, the Harlequin Mantella survives in refuge areas, normally composed of high altitude cliffs and micro- forest stamps.

Currently, there are four sites where the species is still present, but it is not really known how large its populations are. In one of the main sites where it is still present, near the town of Antoetra, many individuals were captured every year to be exported to Europe and America. This, together with de-forestation, has caused a drastic reduction and, in certain cases, the extinction of populations. For this reason, the Harlequin Mantella has become a symbol of the conservation of Madagascar’s amphibians.

In 2018 the Madagascar ASG organized a meeting in which the main conservation bodies took part and today the Action Plan, called McAP, “Mantella cowanii Action Plan”, was published. The action plan, which will be developed in 2021-2025, will be structured into five broad themes. The habitat protection and management require defined boundaries and protection around critical habitat. The research theme is related to understanding the species distribution, conservation genetics, disease dynamics, and population trends. Site-specific studies, especially of population ecology in different habitat types, are required as an ex situ conservation programme. Another component is the local development of sustainable livelihoods initiatives and actions improving the wellbeing of the communities who live near M. cowanii habitat. These communities are key to enabling a successful conservation plan. An awareness campaign and building in-country capacity to work on amphibian conservation compose the key objectives of this agenda.