22 Feb 2016

About the Decline of Amphibian Populations (II)


About the Decline of Amphibian Populations (II)

Por: Jorge Ventocilla



As a summary of the topics covered on the first part of this article (February’s Full Moon), allow me to quote here part of the introduction posted on Panama Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project’s website: “Amphibians are dying all over the world due to chytridiomycosis. This disease, caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is responsible for dramatic amphibian declines and extinctions in the Neotropics, including Panamanian tropical forests...”

When the disease caused by Bd makes its way to a new area, amphibian populations in such area suffer a significant decline. Just a small number proves to be resistant to Bd; however, declining populations show little ability to recover from infection. Scientists believe that a significant portion of infected populations could now be extinct and, unfortunately, nothing has been found to prevent this disease from spreading. 

A decade ago, the Houston Zoo and former Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (now Ministerio de Ambiente de Panamá) started working on a center for captive breeding of amphibians. Valuable contributions were also received from several members of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Other organizations, such as Conservation International, and other Panamanian institutions and businesses, such as the Summit Botanical Gardens, Hotel Campestre in El Valle, Banco Continental, and Ripard Holding Corp also joined in to help.  This center for captive breeding of amphibians in El Níspero, a zoo located in El Valle (Coclé province, Republic of Panama), is called Centro de Conservación de Anfibios de El Valle (EVACC: Center for the Conservation of Amphibians in El Valle) and was completed in 2007, under the leadership of biologists Edgardo Griffith and Heidi Ross.

The EVACC has been a model for similar efforts aimed to rescue and provide a sanctuary for amphibians in other regions of the world. One of the recommendations of the Action Plan agreed to at the Amphibian Conservation Summit 2005, an international event held in Washington DC, was to find a coordinated, joint solution to the global crisis affecting amphibian populations. This center turned into a reality thanks to this joint effort.

Additionally, a more ambitious project began in 2009: the Panama Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project ((http://amphibianrescue.org/es/). This project is the result of the contributions of the Smithsonian Research Institute, including the Smithsonian in Panama, and the zoos at Cheyenne Mountain, New England, and Houston. 

The Project has built a second facility called Gamboa Amphibian Research and Conservation Center (Gamboa ARCC), located in the community of Gamboa. Its mission is to conduct amphibian research and conservation activities, in coordination with the EVACC. 


Several days ago I had the chance of talking with Dr. Roberto Ibáñez, Director of this Project. He mentioned that the Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) has not been found in the wild since 2009, and that the chytridiomycosis has already been reported in Darien. “Captive breeding of frogs is not easy. In some cases, we did not know all the details of the reproduction of the species or the required environmental conditions. Our plans are to have true ‘frog farms’, with 400-500 individuals from 16-20 different species, with the purpose of eventually re-introducing these individuals, species by species, into the wild in those areas where existing populations had been devastated by the disease. As result of the study of the fungus, bacteria living on the skin of amphibians are also under study, since they may inhibit the spread of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis”, said Dr. Ibáñez.

Our best wishes to those men and women devoted to research at the Panama Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project. They are specialists from Panama and from other countries. They work hard, and they do it for a good cause. They work for the preservation of natural resources of the country and also for helping other countries in the region at the same time. Although most of us are just observers, we can become a part of this initiative by learning more about these efforts. For example, the exhibition “Fabulous Frogs of Panama” is part of the educational activities offered by Punta Culebra Nature Center, in Amador Causeway, close to Biomuseo.