January 10th, 2014 --In search of Mantella cowani
It was great to finally make it into the countryside of Madagascar. We, including Karina, Richard, Serge, our student from University of Tana, Devin from Association Mitsinjo, Brian a photographer from Cal Academy and me, were greeted with the rolling hills of green, interspersed with grey rock outcrops and dotted with small villages here and there. The drive from Ambositra to Antoetra was short compared our 6 hour drive the Tana the previous day. In Antoetra we were met with the voices of smiling children shouting Vazaha, which means foreigner in Malagasy. With relative ease (Thanks to Serge and Devin) we arranged for a guide and a cook for our trek to find Mantella cowani in the hills surrounding Antoetra. Our gear required 11 porters for the six of us and soon enough our small army took off on the trail toward Farimazava. After about 1.5 hours of hiking we arrived at our camp location. The owner of a house in the village there graciously opened their home to us, and we all got to escape the rain and cool nights in a room in the attic. The owner of the house had a welcoming speech for us and we all had a sip of some home brewed rum. I was anxious to sample the first frogs of the trip so we went out to a small stream to find frogs and came back with over 20 frogs for the night including Boophis microtympanum which was a unique find.
The late night sampling made the 4:30 AM wake up for searching for Mantella a bit challenging, but the scenic views of waterfalls and the pinkish orange sunrise soon broke my tiredness. After about a 45 minute walk we arrived at the Farimazava site. The site looked somewhat deforested and I was a bit skeptical at first about whether there would be any frogs. But the locals know there stuff. Soon we found a rocky, fast flowing stream and just up the stream a 100 m or so we began to heard the chirps of the Mantella! The site was filled with M. baroni and a few putative baroni-cowani hybrids which was great for Karina’s work. We left empty handed for cowani but we would look again tomorrow at another site. The day felt so long after the early wake up but rewarding because we got to sample the first wild mantella of the trip. During the afternoon I showed the children around the house the frog ID book and they were mesmerized by the photos and would tell me the local names for the different herps in the book. We took the night off to rest and gear up for the early morning trek in search of the Sahona mana as the locals call M. cowani. We wandered the hillsides of a historic locality of cowani and ears and eyes open, but unfortunately no cowani. We did however, find some a few frogs that were either Mantidactylus lugubris or Mantidactylus cowan which was a new species for our project.
Set on finding Mantella cowani we decided to hike out of the village, Holoma Ambany Lalana, and search a site south of Antoetra called Soamazaka. We spend the night in Antoetra and headed to the site just after sunrise. Ranary, our driver was able to get us very close to the site which was much appreciated after our uphill hike the day before. We had two local guides with us and within seconds of arrival one was pointing at the side of the rocky stream and we all scrambled over. It was our first Mantella cowani! All of our faces lit up in excitement at the sight of our target species. Within 2 hours we had found 9 cowani and a few other species like Boophis goudoti and Mantidactylus curtus. Processing went quickly and smoothly. Our time in Antoetra was indeed a success!
We all stayed in Ambositra for the night, before our planned departure to Isalo the next day. Devin and Brian were headed back to Andasibe, and Karina, Richard, Serge and I left early expecting the long travel to Ranohira (near Isalo). Along the way I glanced over our permit localities and to my surprise Isalo was not listed as a sampling locality! In a slight panic, I showed the permit to Serge and asked him what we should do. Then we contacted our collaborator Faly Rabemananjara in Tana to see what he thought we should do. He said we had two options: drive to Isalo and talked with the forestry office there to see if they would let us sample in the Isalo area or go to our next site Ranomafana. We had a decision to make: continue on the long 10 hours car ride to Ranohira and hope the forestry office would grant us permission to sample or go to Ranomafana and do more extensive sampling of the forests there.
We decided to go to Ranomafana and then see if we could contact the office in Isalo by phone. A day past and we still could not find a number to call. We decided that it would be more productive and logistically easier for us to stay in Ranomafana. This park has one of the most diverse amphibian assemblages of Madagascar, with over 125 species. Mantella expectata, one our target species at Isalo will have to wait to be sampled on the next trip. We head into the forest in Ranomafana tomorrow to begin sampling in the park to determine the prevalence of Bd and collect probiotic samples. The rain is pouring down today and will hopefully bring out the frogs!
Working to save the frogs,