Mantella aurantiaca, the Golden frog is an amphibian species endemic to Madagascar. It occurs only in a very limited area around the town of Moramanga including the Torotorofotsy wetland near Andasibe. Due to its restricted distribution, the Golden mantella is considered Critically Endangered. The species is threatened by habitat loss caused by human activities. Also, the amphibian chytrid fungus might put it at risk.
To mitigate population declines and the threat of extinction, assurance populations caught from three sites on the footprint of the Ambatovy nickel and cobalt mine were established in captivity by Mitsinjo in 2012. In 2013, a reintroduction programme was prepared and the breeding centre started to raise an additional number of frogs with a future release in mind.
The preparations of this first release trial began in 2016. Four receptor sites were selected and restored by Ambatovy in collaboration with the University of Antananarivo. The sites are in protected zones close to the ponds where the animals belonging to the original founder stock had been caught. The release took place on three consecutive days from 26 to 28 April 2017, following disease screening to ensure captive stock was in good health. Golden Mantella produced in captivity by Mitsinjo, including more than 1,000 larvae and frogs, were taken early in the morning and transported in plastic boxes from the centre to the receptor sites. A soft-release method was used for adults and juveniles. This means that the animals were not immediately released into the natural sites but acclimatized to wild conditions by keeping them in protecting cages. Tadpoles at earlier life stages were released using the hard-release method, directly into the closed habitat. Ambatovy and the University of Antananarivo are conducting monitoring of the frogs and larvae produced by Mitsinjo.
A Mitsinjo technician at the breeding centre assists Ambatovy staff move frogs from a terrarium to containers for transport:
The official launch of the reintroduction of the Golden mantella was organised on 19 May 2017 in Andasibe. 72 people participated in the seminar, representing the Ministry of the Environment, Ecology and Forests, local and regional authorities, environmental organisations and the Ambatovy mining company. The member of Parliament elected from Moramanga opened the seminar officially. There were also many journalists who were interested in the release. A press conference was held on 18 and 19 May.
The frogs have been monitored after the release and the results look promising. The whole release programme will last two years. It is implemented in close collaboration between the stakeholders which include the General Directorate of Forests DGF (Direction Générale des Forêts), the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar, the Biodiversity team of Ambatovy Minerals, Association Mitsinjo, Madagasikara Voakajy, and the Universities of Antananarivo and Mahajanga.