Panamanian golden frogs fight back against extinction

The Panamanian gold frog is believed to be extinct in the wild and worldwide efforts have been made to preserve the species.

This frog (which is actually a toad species) is in the fight of its life. Classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, the Panamanian golden, also known as Atelopus zeteki, frog has experienced a catastrophic population decline in the wild – estimated at 80 per cent during the last decade.

The steep depopulation of Panamanian golden frogs, which are native to the mountainous, higher-altitude regions of western-central Panama, is thought to be largely due to the spread of chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease of amphibians caused by an aquatic fungal pathogen, as well as habitat deforestation and collection for the pet trade.

The Vancouver Aquarium is joining a worldwide effort to conserve the Panamanian golden frogs and to save them from extinction. A number of zoos and aquariums throughout the world, including ours, are working to maintain the genetic diversity of this species with the goal of one day re-populating their native ecosystem, once it is deemed healthy for the frogs.

The country of Panama, which has named the Panamanian golden frog its national animal, has provided these frogs to zoos and aquariums to create assurance populations, in the event they disappear from the wild.

Known as a poisonous, brightly-coloured golden toad with a distinct “wave” used in mating (this behavior is called “semaphoring”), the Panamanian golden frog is one of many species that the Aquarium is working to preserve through the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Species Survival Plan® Program designed to manage populations of critically endangered or threatened species.

Amphibians are key indicators of environmental health in their ecosystems, and they have an important role in local ecology. Every single amphibian species is part of an intricate ecological web, and taking a species away from that web creates an imbalance that may have negative effects on other species.

The Aquarium is also part of a worldwide effort, along with other zoos and aquariums, to conserve this and other amphibian species under the Amphibian Ark (AArk) project, a joint effort of key conservation organizations to ensure the global survival of amphibians, with a special focus on species that are currently endangered or threatened in nature.

In addition to Panamanian golden frogs, the Aquarium has also been working to establish assurance populations of Oregon spotted frogs and Northern leopard frogs, two amphibian species that are endangered in British Columbia.

Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium

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