Madhushri Mudke and Rajkumar K P are our newest Segré EDGE amphibian Fellows, based in the Western Ghats of India they are working to protect two weirdly wonderful EDGE amphibians; the Kottigehar dancing frog (Micrixalus kottigeharensis) and the galaxy frog (Melanobatrachus indicus) respectively. We asked them about their journey into conservation, their EDGE species and their EDGE Fellowship experience.
The EDGE Fellowship aims to recognise and train future conservation leaders from developing countries. It attracts the most passionate and dedicated early career conservationists that different regions have to offer. As a result, it often means a lot to those who become Fellows as was the case for our newest amphibian Fellows Madhushri and Rajkumar. Madhushri on hearing she had become an EDGE Fellow: “I locked myself in my bathroom and cried and laughed all at once.” The opportunity meant a lot to her as she felt she could truly contribute to a field she was passionate about: “Being an EDGE fellow empowers me! It gives me the ability to direct my path towards nature conservation and to make a difference in the field of wildlife research.” Rajkumar echoes the sense of achievement being selected gave him:
“It was like a dream come true! […] It was one of the greatest achievements in my life. It is a great honour to be one among the many talented and skilled researchers from different parts of the world. It fills me with great pride to be selected as an EDGE Fellow and to be able to put in efforts and work for the conservation of a species that I love.”
Madhushri is currently a full-time PhD scholar at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), an NGO and think-tank based out of Bangalore, India. Her EDGE Fellowship centres around the Kottigehar dancing frog which has been scientifically documented in only five localities in India. Madhushri’s EDGE species faces threats to its survival from all sides, listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list, the frog is affected by tourism, urbanisation, infrastructure growth, pollution and deforestation. Despite this, Madhushri has a gleam in her eye when she describes her EDGE species: “I think my EDGE species is a daredevil. I am amazed by this frog’s adaptability to live in torrential streams and difficult water laden environments. The brilliance of this planet and the biodiversity it holds is truly captured by my EDGE frog’s jumping abilities, calls and dance (foot-flagging behaviour) on moist rocks.”
Rajkumar is currently pursuing a PhD from Calicut University on ‘Herpetofaunal diversity of marshy grassland ecosystems in Periyar Tiger Reserve’ and is embedded in a network of young herpetologists working in the Western Ghats in India, several of which have been EDGE Fellows (Ashish Thomas, Arun Kanagavel and Sandeep Das). His EDGE species, the galaxy frog, was first described in 1878 and ranks 109th on the EDGE amphibians list. In 2004, the galaxy frog was assessed as Endangered due to its limited distribution and degradation of its habitat. Its striking and beautiful appearance amazed Rajkumar when he first encountered it: “It’s like a small black pearl and when you observe it closely, you will be amazed by seeing the blues and orange on it. If you click a picture, it appears just like a galaxy with billions of stars.”
As both of their EDGE species are little known, both Madhushri’s and Rajkumar’s EDGE projects will involve collecting more data about their frogs. Madhushri aims to increase the scientific and public knowledge on the Kottigehar dancing frog in India by conducting ecological monitoring surveys. Through these surveys, she will assess the species’ home range and identify major threats to its habitat. Rajkumar aims to develop more detailed baseline data about the galaxy frog’s distribution range, population size, habitat preference, breeding behaviour, details about their eggs, larvae, vocalization and threats. He hopes that this information will facilitate better protection for the frog by informing conservation management. He also acknowledges that the local community will have an important role to play in the conservation of his EDGE species: “I will assess the knowledge that local communities have of this frog and I will incorporate their knowledge in subsequent conservation action plans. I will conduct capacity building programmes for the research assistants from the local community to help them monitor amphibians.”
Through their EDGE Fellowships, both amphibian Fellows are hoping to secure the future of their EDGE species. “This study will be a major step in the conservation of the galaxy frog and its habitat” says Rajkumar, “the conservation action plan will help to protect the galaxy frog and its habitat based on the relationship with humans. In the long run, a stable population of galaxy frog will be conserved and as a result, other sympatric fauna and flora will benefit as well.” Madhusrhi similarly hopes to “promote my species as a ‘target species’ for amphibian biodiversity conservation in India”.
Aside from working for the future of their EDGE species, both are excited to learn and grow through their Fellowship experience: “The EDGE fellowship will enable me to use tools that could convince people to promote species conservation” explains Madhushri, “I am also looking forward to the leadership course at the end of the fellowship as this, I think, will be a turning point in the lives of all EDGE fellows. It will transform us into leaders for promoting wildlife conservation in an impactful and effective way.”