Last month, eight zoological institutes formed the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. The National Zoo, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Africam Safari Park, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Defenders of Wildlife, Houston Zoo, Summit Municipal Park, and Zoo New England have joined together to help preserve and protect the amphibians that live in eastern Panama, an area that due to its large amphibian numbers is key to the survival of the whole. Over sixty percent of the country’s amphibians live in eastern Panama, but unfortunately this area is also being dramatically affected by a pathogen called chytrid fungus that, if left unchecked, could rapidly wipe out one-third of the amphibian population.
The mission statement of the project is: “Our mission is to rescue amphibian species that are in extreme danger of extinction from amphibian chytrid disease sweeping through Panama. We will focus our efforts and expertise on developing appropriate technologies to control the amphibian chytrid fungus, so that one day captive amphibians may be re-introduced to the wild.”
National Zoo biologist and project manager of the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project Brian Gratwicke said, “This unparalleled speed of loss to amphibians deserves an immediate and comprehensive global response. Time is of the essence, and we need to save these important creatures for their direct cultural, biomedical and ecological impact on human lives.”
The project consists of three arms. The first is the ongoing operation of El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in western Panama, run by the Houston Zoo. The second is the Amphibian Chytrid Cure Research Program to be initiated at the National Zoo with Vanderbilt University. The third is the construction and operation of the new Summit Park Amphibian Rescue Center in Panama. One “amphibian rescue pod,” which is a biosecure, modified shipping container that will house the first rescued species from eastern Panama, has already been established. [National Zoo]
So why are amphibians important? Why do we want to save them? If we allow the amphibians to become extinct we face losing any number of potential medical advancements for mankind. For example, the White’s tree frog’s skin produces a peptide that can help deter HIV and the Phantasmal Poison frog secrets a substance that has painkilling abilities twenty times that of morphine. We have already lost the Gastric Brooding frog, whose skin secretions contained prostaglandin, a possible cure for peptic ulcers; unfortunately we will never know how effective it could’ve been as when the frog went extinct, it took its potential cures with it.
Check out the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project to learn more about the important role amphibians play in our world.