The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project was created in 2009 as a partnership between Zoo New England, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Houston Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoo, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to build captive populations of species at risk of extinction from the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus. Together we have built significant capacity for amphibian conservation in Panama and now have 8 full-time employees and a 5,000 sq ft facility that houses an ex situ collection of 2,000 adult frogs of 12 at-risk amphibian species.

Our current facility improvement goal is to constructing a dedicated 1,600 square foot insect production facility on site to ensure capacity to feed our growing collection of amphibians that are housed in 7 modified shipping containers. We manage our captive populations using the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) and are researching the causes of spindly leg syndrome, to improve our captive rearing survival rates.  We also have an active research program using assisted reproduction methods to induce spawning in different species, with a goal to ensure that we breed unrepresented founder animals. We are also cryopreserving live amphibian sperm as a safeguard against unintended genetic bottlenecks from captivity.

We have begun releasing surplus-bred animals into the wild in order to compare the effectiveness of different post-release monitoring methods, including using radiotransmitter-tagged animals, mesocosms, and mark-recapture survey-based methods.  Our current research into mitigating the effects of the amphibian chytrid fungus includes trials studying the mucusome of animals in the captive collection, with a goal to breed more resilient individuals. We are also conducting research into the idea of environmental refugia from the chytrid fungus with a goal of selecting reintroduction sites where frogs have a higher chance of persisting.

Our primary education and outreach is conducted by a team at the Punta Culebra Nature Center in Panama City, who have a world-class amphibian exhibit and informal educational curriculum to share with casual visitors and visiting school groups. A team of educators on the Qrius bus visits schools in rural areas and conduct amphibian-based education and outreach activities there. Annually around August 14th we participate alongside many different groups and stakeholders in a weeklong ‘Golden Frog Day Festival’ with frog-themed activities, talks, exhibitions, sporting events and parades.

Photo © Brian Gratwicke