Mantella cowani, the most threatened amphibian from Madagascar

by Nirhy Rabibisoa

Mantella cowani. Itremo

The harlequin mantella (Mantella cowani) is a colorful species with red or orange bands on limbs contrasting with black skin, and underside with blue spots. This iconic species is a terrestrial frog inhabiting high plateau streams or wetland moorlands. Like all of Mantella spp., eggs are laid on land and then carried by water during the heavy rain into small streams. This species has been currently found only in the highlands of Madagascar. Four sites are currently known, namely Fohisokina (or Vohisokina)/Ivato in the Antoetra region, Itremo, Ambatofotsy/Betafo, and Antakasina/Ambatolampy, between 1350-1650 m a.s.l. The harlequin mantella is one of the most threatened frog with extinction from Madagascar and little is still known about its biology, ecology and life cycle. For this, an intense research activity is needed to get ecological and biological information. Anyway, it is likely that the original habitat of this species is likely the high altitude rainforests, but due to anthropogenic activities and habitat destruction nowadays it still survives in small forest stretches along mountain streams and on rocky humid surfaces.

Conservation activities

Original forest habitat at Itremo

Mantella cowani is categorized as Critically endangered species is the most threatened amphibian from Madagascar because population is currently very small (only four populations are known) and all with small densities. This species is under protected with Malagasy legislation and CITES (Appendix II). Its trade is currently banned. To better management of this species an action plan was built up to outline the strategic axes to remove or at least to mitigate the threats for the species and its habitats (collecting for pet-trade, habitat loss, fire, hybridization with the closely related M. baroni, fragmentation, and impact of climate change) in the highland of Madagascar, with local stakeholders’ participation, namely FOMISAME (Local association which works closely with MATE to implement the conservation action). In these five priorities works are needed and undertaken for 5 years:
  1. Establish a secure area of the species at Antoetra and protect the species in the new future Protected Area at Itremo;
  2. Stop the collecting of individuals for the pet-trade;
  3. Follow the populations to monitor any disease
  4. Apply a good communication tool to raise a public awareness;
  5. Investigate all potential sites of the species in the highland of Madagascar.


Since launching to the action plan in 2008 several actions were launched in collaboration with Conservation International and Madagascar Amphibian Specialist Group / Madagascar and ACSAM:
  • New site are identified near Betafo and increasing the occurrence of this species from 10 to 150 km 2
  • A formalization of management contract are done at Antoetra (Fohisokina) in collaboration with MATE, FOMISAME, Environmental and Regional authorities (300 ha) last year to secure this area and can assure some service securities like water, food and carbon sequestration.
  • A communication tools to increase public awareness are done, such as brochures in Malagasy and English, and tee-shirts.
  • Mantella cowani was choosing as flagship during the Year of Frog in 2008 and 1000 stickers is done for that.

Antakasina habitat

Antoetra habitat

Antoetra Soamazaka habitat


Mantella cowani (F. Andreone)

Conservation International through LORAX and SABIN FELLOWSHIP have provided supplementary funds to implement the management plan at Antoetra, with local population participation. The main objective of this activity was to get the restoration of the degraded habitat of the population of harlequin mantella by increasing the forest cover, and avoiding also the annual fire by plantation-based around the “corps area”. This program in addition to safeguard Mantella cowani against extinction can allow and help to:
  1. Help to lower the offset the greenhouse gas emission in the atmosphere by carbon sequestration;
  2. Help to preserve the source of water of ricefields in downstream and the water quality in the watershed of streams edging the montane which will serve as a natural boundary of the site;
  3. Boost the natural resources for local economic development and protect the ‘corps area” of the habitat of Mantella cowani;
  4. Highlight the tourist value of the site to make it accessible to different target visitors.

Following steps

MATE will propose a program of conservation by involving local communities in alternative activities in fighting against the deforestation and ameliorate livelihood of local population by relevant activities. The production of essential oils and increasing the value of the site with strong ads are proposed through the development of the multi-target tourism will be a part of activities initiated by MATE contributing to reduce the pressure on the over harvesting of natural resources.

More information

N. Rabibisoa, H. Randrianasolo, M. Anjeriniaina, J. MacKinnon, A. Andriamamonjisoa, Ramandimbison, C. Randrianantoandro and F. Andreone. New findings of harlequin mantella improve the conservation status of Madagascar’s most threatened frog. Froglog 92 (December 2009). pdf Nirhy RABIBISOA. Mantella cowani action plan. pdf
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