Mantella aurantiaca

by Richard Jenkins

Mantella aurantiaca (Roma Randrianavelona)

The Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) is a strikingly colored frog that is only found in a few rain forests on the island of Madagascar. This charismatic frog begins its life as an egg laid in damp ground alongside small rain forest ponds before the first rains.

Mantella aurantiaca breeding pond at Mangabe rain forest (Lee Brady)

As these ponds fill up with water during the rainy season the eggs gradually become submerged and eventually develop into tadpoles that live in the ponds for a number of weeks. After this relatively short, but very important, time spent in the water the frogs emerge to live in the surrounding rain forest. Golden Mantella frogs live in the leaf litter zone where they hunt for small invertebrates during the day. With the onset of the cold season in Madagascar the frogs become less active and gradually move away from the ponds in search of suitable cavities, such as root systems and rotten logs, in which to spend the winter.

Major conservation challenges

Mantella aurantiaca feeding in leaf litter in the Mangabe rain forest

The Golden Mantella is a species that is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of the continued loss of its rain forest habitat and the very small area in which it is found. Its reliance on small rain forest ponds is probably a key factor in its threatened status because not only are these habitats relatively rare but they are also highly prized for their agricultural potential by local people. Indeed, the main threat to the Golden Mantella is the conversion of rain forest and ponds into farmland. This frog appears to be able to withstand a moderate level of disturbance, such as selective logging, so the main conservation challenge is to protect its breeding ponds.

Slash and burn agriculture in Mantella breeding habitat (Bertrand Razafimahatratra)

Mantella habitat being converted into farmland near Mangabe (Roman Randrianavelona)

Selective logging of rain forest in Mangabe (Richard Jenkins)

Conceptual model or species management plan

Mantella aurantiaca survey at a breeding pond in the Ambatovy mine (Lee Brady)

The survival of this species must take into account the different needs of stakeholders and especially the groups who manage and use the forest where the frogs occur. Based on our current knowledge, the Golden Mantella frog is largely restricted to Mangabe forest and the Ambatovy-Torotorofotsy forest. Many of the Golden Mantella breeding ponds at Mangabe and Torotorofotsy occur in sites that fall within forest zones that are managed by local community associations. These associations and their local land use plans provide a workable framework with which to develop a more effective conservation for Golden Mantella. That said, even though Torotorofotsy is a Ramsar site and the Mangabe forest was awarded provisional protected area status by the Malagasy government in 2008, the pressure on the forest at these sites is growing. At Mangabe, Madagasikara Voakajy is supporting community based associations to sustainably manage natural resources and specifically to conserve the breeding ponds of the Golden Mantella. More support is needed for local communities to safeguard the Golden Mantella breeding ponds. A few breeding ponds to the west of Torotorofotsy occur within the limits of the Ambatovy nickel mine area; these ponds are found within the mine footprint and surrounding buffer zone and are included within a Mantella site management plan. Madagasikara Voakajy is assisting the on-site full time biodiversity management team at the mine to minimize, or compensate for, any damage to the Golden Mantella or its key habitats. The survival of the Golden Mantella in the wild is therefore dependent on the actions and commitment of a few community associations and a mining company. In an effort to engage all these groups, and other stakeholders within a single conservation initiative, Madagasikara Voakajy began the process of developing a Species Conservation Strategy for the Golden Mantella to take into account the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders and to guide these different groups towards a common goal.

Achievements

It is probably too early to talk about achievements but we can indicate significant progress made in the last few years:
  • Golden Mantella frog identified as a priority species by the Ambatovy Project and the subsequent development of a species specific management plan at this site (The Ambatovy project Mantella Management Plan); the plan was developed by Ambatovy in collaboration with Madagasikara Voakajy; one notable success and illustration of the seriousness of the Mantella plan was that is allowed avoiding a breeding pond during the slurry pipeline construction through right of way re-routing;
  • Awareness of all stakeholders, from local communities to government authorities about the plight of the Golden Mantella has been significantly raised;
  • Mangabe forest awarded provisional protected area status by the Malagasy government;
  • Monitoring of Golden Mantella habitat and abundance in Ambatovy and Mangabe; and
  • Golden Mantella frog Species Conservation Strategy awaiting validation by the Malagasy government.

Future plan for a given period of time

Madagasikara Voakajy team surveying for Mantella frogs (Bertrand Razafimahatratra)

The future conservation plans for the Golden Mantella have been agreed by stakeholders and will be published in the IUCN Species Conservation Strategy. Generally though, a coordinated approach is needed to engage all relevant stakeholders at each of the rain forest sites where this species still occurs. For conservation efforts to be successful we will need to consider the pressing needs of both local communities and the mining company, but if these can be channeled into providing net gains to biodiversity, livelihoods and business then the Golden Mantella has a good chance of hanging on.

Funding sources

Madagasikara Voakajy would like to thank the following donors for supporting its Golden Mantella Project: Fauna and Flora International, Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, Miller Park Zoo, Rufford Small Grants, Maurice Laing Foundation, Conservation International, USAID Miaro, the Ambatovy mining Project (Sherritt Incorporated, Sumitomo Incorporated, Kores and SNC Lavalin).
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