Brian Gratwicke: The Panamanian Golden Frog

Panamanian Golden Frogs in the market at El ValleKeep an open eye in Panama and you might just see a Panamanian Golden Frog. Local legend used to promise luck to anyone who spotted the frog in the wild and that when the frog died, it would turn into a gold talisman, known as a huaca. Nowadays, you’ll see the frogs on decorative cloth molas made by the Kuna Indians, on T-shirts, as inlaid design on a new overpass in Panama City and even on lottery tickets. In the market at El Valle de Antòn, you will see them by the thousands either as enamel-painted terracotta or on hand-carved tagua nuts. The one place you probably won’t see a Panamanian Golden Frog, however, is in their native home—the crystal clear streams of the ancient volcanic crater of El Valle de Antòn. In the mountain forests you may spot other similar-looking extant species such as Atelopus varius, but the only local and true Panamanian Golden Frogs Atelopus zeteki are those breeding in captivity at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) at the El Nispero Zoo.

Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki (in captivity)In the early 2000’s conservationists warned that this day-glo yellow emblem of Panama was in grave danger of extinction. In emergency response, Project Golden Frog was established to create captive assurance colonies of this species, just in case the scientists’ worst fears came to pass and the species went extinct in the wild. In 2006, just as the scientists had predicted, the chytridiomycosis disease hit El Valle. The Panamanian Golden Frog—whose populations were already under pressure due to collectors and habitat loss—was decimated. Suddenly, Panama’s unique harelquin frog species joined the ranks of at least 30 other harlequin frogs that are most likely extinct in the wild. Luckily, Panama’s charismatic namesake was part of an AZA Species Survival Plan. Today, the captive population is being carefully managed and bred for long-term survival by a number of zoos and aquaria in the United States and Panama. The animals in these assurance colonies have served their intended purpose and provide an insurance policy for the species, guaranteeing that this important Panamanian cultural symbol will never be lost all together.

amphibian_rescue_project-300x296A tragedy has thus been averted. Instead of a dire warning of the future fate of the planet, Panamanian Golden Frogs are now a symbol of hope. Exiled frogs are playing the role of a flagship species, bringing the story of global amphibian declines to world wide audiences in zoos and aquaria, magazines and films. As the logo of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, the Panamanian Golden Frog is a powerful symbol uniting 8 key institutions. Together, we have embarked on this ambitious national program to build capacity at the Summit Municipal Park in Panama and to create assurance colonies of other amphibian species from Eastern Panama before it is too late. We are also actively working with some of the world’s leading researchers like Reid Harris and Louise Rollins-Smith to develop a cure that will allow us to control the further spread of chytridiomycosis. Our great hope is that one day we may re-establish wild populations of Panamanian Golden Frogs back into their rightful home in the streams of El Valle. Until then, we embrace Panama’s living gold as a symbol of hope and achievement in showing us how we can preserve Panama’s amphibian biodiversity.

Brian Gratwicke: Extinct amphibians – a roll call of missing species

bufo_periglenes1-300x200It’s difficult to communicate the extent of the amphibian crisis using only numbers. The 2008 global amphibian assessment lists 120 potentially extinct species and 39 extinct amphibian species. Of these, 94 had chytridiomycosis listed as a likely threat associated with their disappearance. Most of the missing species are from Central and South America, but we are also losing species from North America, the Caribbean, Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

Now let’s try and put those numbers into the context of our mammal-centric world. Think of a whole bunch of endangered mammals from around the world: a jaguar, Panthera onca, a Baird’s tapir, Tapirus bairdii, the golden lion tamarin, Leontopithecus rosalia, a mountain pygmy possum, Burramys parvus, Dama gazelle, Nanger dama, and the New Guinea big-eared bat, Pharotis imogene. Repeat that exercise 25 times, and you’ll have some idea of what we have probably already lost in the amphibian world.

Here is a roll-call of missing amphibians. Those marked with an (EX) are classified by the IUCN as extinct. Those with an asterisk * next to them have had chytridiomycosis suggested as one of the threats associated with their disappearance.


Alytidae – Midwife Toads

1. Discoglossus nigriventer (EX) Rediscovered in 2011!


1. Aromobates nocturnus *

2. Mannophryne neblina*

3. Prostherapis dunni*

Bufonidae – True toads

1. Adenomus kandianus (EX)

2. Anaxyrus baxteri (EX in the wild)*

3. Andinophryne colomai

4. Atelopus arthuri*

5. Atelopus balios*

6. Atelopus carbonerensis*

7. Atelopus chiriquiensis*

8. Atelopus chrysocorallus*

9. Atelopus coynei*

10. Atelopus famelicus*

11. Atelopus guanujo*

12. Atelopus halihelos*

13. Atelopus ignescens (EX)*

14. Atelopus longirostris (EX)*

15. Atelopus lozanoi*

16. Atelopus lynchi *

17. Atelopus mindoensis*

18. Atelopus muisca*

19. Atelopus nanay*

20. Atelopus oxyrhynchus*

21. Atelopus pachydermus*

22. Atelopus peruensis*

23. Atelopus pinangoi*

24. Atelopus planispina*

25. Atelopus senex*

26. Atelopus sernai*

27. Atelopus sorianoi*

28. Atelopus vogli

29. Incilius fastidiosus*

30. Incilius holdridgei (EX)*

31. Incilius periglenes (EX)*

32. Melanophryniscus macrogranulosus

33. Nectophrynoides asperginis*

34. Peltophryne fluviatica

35. Rhinella rostrata

Centrolenidae – Glass frogs

1. Centrolene ballux*

2. Centrolene heloderma*

3. Hyalinobatrachium crybetes

Ceratophryidae – Horned frogs

1. Telmatobius cirrhacelis*

2. Telmatobius niger*

3. Telmatobius vellardi*


1. Craugastor anciano

2. Craugastor andi*

3. Craugastor angelicus*

4. Craugastor chrysozetetes (EX)*

5. Craugastor coffeus

6. Craugastor cruzi*

7. Craugastor emleni*

8. Craugastor escoces (EX)*

9. Craugastor fecundus*

10. Craugastor fleischmanni*

11. Craugastor guerreroensis*

12. Craugastor merendonensis*

13. Craugastor milesi (EX)**Population just rediscovered in Honduras (see comments)

14. Craugastor olanchano*

15. Craugastor omoaensis*

16. Craugastor polymniae*

17. Craugastor saltuarius*

18. Craugastor stadelmani*

19. Craugastor trachydermus*


1. Cryptobatrachus nicefori


1. Cycloramphus ohausi*

2. Odontophrynus moratoi

3. Rhinoderma rufum*

Dendrobatidae – Poison dart frogs

1. Colostethus jacobuspetersi

2. Hyloxalus edwardsi

3. Hyloxalus ruizi

4. Hyloxalus vertebralis*

5. Ranitomeya abdita*


1. Nannophrys guentheri

Eleutherodactylidae – Neotropical frogs

1. Eleutherodactylus eneidae*

2. Eleutherodactylus glanduliferoides

3. Eleutherodactylus jasper*

4. Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti*

5. Eleutherodactylus orcutti*

6. Eleutherodactylus schmidti*

7. Eleutherodactylus semipalmatus*

Hylidae – Treefrogs

1. Bokermannohyla claresignata*

2. Bokermannohyla izecksohni

3. Bromeliohyla dendroscarta*

4. Charadrahyla altipotens*

5. Charadrahyla trux*

6. Ecnomiohyla echinata*

7. Hyla bocourti*

8. Hyloscirtus chlorosteus

9. Hypsiboas cymbalum*

10. Isthmohyla calypso*

11. Isthmohyla debilis*

12. Isthmohyla graceae*

13. Isthmohyla tica*

14. Litoria castanea* Breaking news – this has been rediscovered after 30 years!

15. Litoria lorica*

16. Litoria nyakalensis*

17. Litoria piperata*

18. Megastomatohyla pellita*

19. Plectrohyla calvicollina*

20. Plectrohyla celata*

21. Plectrohyla cembra*

22. Plectrohyla cyanomma*

23. Plectrohyla ephemera*

24. Plectrohyla hazelae*

25. Plectrohyla siopela*

26. Plectrohyla thorectes*

27. Phrynomedusa fimbriata (EX)

28. Scinax heyeri*

Hemiphractidae – Marsupial frogs

1. Gastrotheca lauzuricae


1. Crossodactylus trachystomus

Leptodactylidae – Southern frogs

1. Paratelmatobius mantiqueira*

Megophryidae – Asian toadfrogs

1. Scutiger maculatus

Myobatrachidae – Australian toadlets and waterfrogs

1. Taudactylus acutirostris*

2. Taudactylus diurnus (EX)*

3. Rheobatrachus silus (EX)*

4. Rheobatrachus vitellinus (EX)*


1. Conraua derooi

2. Petropedetes dutoiti*

Ranidae – True frogs

1. Lithobates fisheri (EX)

2. Lithobates omiltemanus*

3. Lithobates pueblae

4. Lithobates tlaloci

Rhacophoridae – Asian Tree Frogs

1. Philautus jacobsoni

2. Philautus adspersus (EX)

3. Philautus dimbullae (EX)

4. Philautus eximius (EX)

5. Philautus extirpo (EX)

6. Philautus halyi (EX)

7. Philautus hypomelas (EX)

8. Philautus leucorhinus (EX)

9. Philautus maia (EX)

10. Philautus malcolmsmithi (EX)

11. Philautus nanus (EX)

12. Philautus nasutus (EX)

13. Philautus oxyrhynchus (EX)

14. Philautus pardus (EX)

15. Philautus rugatus (EX)

16. Philautus stellatus (EX)

17. Philautus temporalis (EX)

18. Philautus travancoricus (EX)

19. Philautus variabilis (EX)

20. Philautus zal (EX)

21. Philautus zimmeri(EX)


1. Holoaden bradei

2. Oreobates zongoensis

3. Pristimantis bernali


Plethodondiade – Lungless salamanders

1. Bradytriton silus

2. Chiropterotriton magnipes

3. Oedipina paucidentata

4. Plethodon ainsworthi (EX)

5. Pseudoeurycea ahuitzotl

6. Pseudoeurycea aquatica

7. Pseudoeurycea naucampatepetl

8. Pseudoeurycea praecellens

9. Pseudoeurycea tlahcuiloh

10. Thorius infernalis

11. Thorius narismagnus

Salimandridae – Newts

1. Cynops wolterstorffi (EX)

Have you seen any of these missing amphibians? Do you think that other species should be added? Use the comments field below to tell us your thoughts. For another list of possibly extinct species, grouped by countries, see amphibia web.

Luis Carrillo: Mexican launch of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project

On June 18, Africam Safari launched in México the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project to rescue endangered amphibians in eastern Panama threatened by a lethal fungus which is wiping out these incredible creatures. The project also aims to develop a cure for this disease in the wild. Africam is partnering with 8 other institutions in the US and Panama to save these threatened Neotropical frogs.

Launch of Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project in Mexico at Africam Safari

The Mexican launch was attended by Panama’s Ambassador in México, Mr. Ricardo Alemán Alfaro and the Honorary Consul in Puebla Mr. Mario Riestra Venegas.

Mrs. Amy Camacho, Africam Safari General Director, explained the current extinction crisis to the audience and press representatives. She outlined the scope of the project and Africam’s involvement.

His Excellency Mr. Alemán Alfaro offered his support for this project, pledging to help in every way possible, especially in developing proper links with other Panamanian institutions involved in the conservation of local wildlife.

Luis Carrillo: Proyecto de Investigación y Conservación de Anfibios

En Junio 18 del 2009, Africam Safari hizo el lanzamiento en México de un ambicioso proyecto llamado Proyecto de Investigación y Conservación de Anfibios para rescatar un gran número de especies de anfibios que habitan en el este de Panamá. Para el lanzamiento fueron invitados especialmente el Embajador de Panamá en México su Excelencia Miguel Alemán Alfaro y el Cónsul Honorario de Panamá en Puebla el Lic. Mario Riestra Venegas.

Este proyecto lo llevará a cabo un consorcio de 8 instituciones entre ellas Africam Safari, el Instituto Smithsonian, la Universidad de Vanderbilt y el Zoológico del Summit. El proyecto tiene como objetivos el trabajo cooperativo interinstitucional para prevenir la extinción de docenas de especies de anfibios y desarrollar estrategias y técnicas contra la amenaza de una enfermedad letal para los anfibios causada por un hongo y que es llamada “quitridiomicosis”.

Amy Camacho, la directora de Africam Safari informó a los presentes y a los representantes de la prensa acerca de la crisis de extinción por la que están pasando los anfibios actualmente, acerca de los objetivos y alcances del proyecto y cómo Africam se involucrará en el proyecto.

Su Excelencia el Embajador Alemán Alfaro comentó que la Embajada ayudará en todo lo que le sea posible para el buen desarrollo de este proyecto, especialmente en el área del desarrollo de contactos con las instituciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales que se dedican a la protección de la flora y fauna en Panamá.

Della Garelle: Giant Frog Sited in Colorado Springs

Giant Golden frog Colorado Springs June 18th, 2009:  The rumor has been confirmed and in fact a giant Panamanian Golden Frog has taken up residence on the Chase Bank building located on the corner of Pikes Peak and Tejon – check it out! The frog will be up for three months.

We had a great media event earlier today, so watch for us on the news and in the paper. The event included the unveiling of the new Josh & John’s ice cream flavor, Panamanian Golden Fudge. They will rotate the flavor on their menu and 50% of the proceeds of this ice cream will be donated to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!

Peter Riger: 5 years and one golden frog later…

In 2004, the Panamanian Golden Frog was garnering attention as a group of zoos, universities and researcher known as Project Golden Frog were responding to the ongoing decline and disappearance of this species in the wild while developing populations of captive golden frogs as a safeguard against extinction. One of their goals at the time was “our expectation that this species holds the potential to rally public support for amphibian conservation throughout the Neotropics”.  At the same time, the chytrid fungus was winding its way through western Panama heading directly for the only known habitat of the Panamanian Golden Frog.

working amphibian tanks in the El Valle Amphibian Conservation CenterIt seemed like a simple idea at the time.  Houston Zoo staff thought it was would be in the best interest of this species to build a small facility where we could house this species in its range country until we had a better idea of when amphibians in the region could safely be released back into the wild, safe from the chytrid fungus which has now moved through western Panama and is heading for the eastern side of the Panama Canal.

But what about all the other amphibians in the region, surely they are in need of protection as well? From this one species, it was decided that a larger focus, based on the 15-20 species potentially threatened with extinction due to the chytrid fungus, should be protected within what was soon to become the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center.

Golden frog exhibit in the public area of the EVACC center, PanamaEVACC center$250,000, 50 plus partners, 17 species and 600 individuals later – El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in El Valle de Anton, Panama opened its doors to the public in May of 2009 and has been the focus of media attention, Animal Planet specials, and news articles over the past 2 years. It even has its own 15 minute documentary called Leap of Faith and Spanish version Un Salto de Fe. So now we wait for a cure and manage the individuals we have collected with support from the zoos, schools, corporations and private individuals.

Actually, we cannot wait. The fungus is jumping the Canal Zone and heading into the largest contiguous tract of rainforest not currently affected by the fungus – called the Darien Gap. We do not know how many species exist within the Darien Gap, undiscovered species that could disappear before we ever knew they had existed.

In 2008, the Houston Zoo and Zoo New England partnered on the design and development of an Amphibian Pod which is now housed at the Summit Municipal Parque. This pod is actually a shipping container based on models developed by groups in Australia and England and modified to maintain amphibians where each pod can safely house 1-2 species of individual amphibians; managing and reproducing them through their life history stages. This was simply the first phase of what you will see here on these pages in months to come. The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation program has brought together partners for Eastern Panama while the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center continues to focus on Western Panama. And hopefully together, these partners can hold the line against what seemed to be the imminent extinction of dozens of amphibians within Panama’s borders.

Sean Anglum: Leaping to the Rescue!

That’s the name of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s new frog rescue exhibit, now open in the Zoo’s Aquatics building. The exhibit highlights our role in combatting global amphibian declines including the Zoo’s partnership in the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.  Exhibit  highlights include African clawed frogs, Leopard frogs and Giant African bullfrogs and also features the zoo’s other amphibian conservation efforts including:

releasing wyoming toad tadpoles at bufordThe Wyoming Toad Project – Wyoming toads are the only North American amphibians listed as extinct in the wild. Found only in the 50 sq.mi. area of the Laramie Basin in Wyoming, these toads began a rapid decline in the 1970’s due to pollution, pesticide runoff, habitat destruction and fungal disease. In 1988, a few toads were caught and a captive breeding program started to protect against extinction. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo cares for a collection of these critically endangered toads in our off-exhibit Amphibian Conservation Center. In 2008 our toads produced over 3,000 tadpoles! 2,500 of those were released back into the wild. We are currently releasing tadpoles into the Laramie Basin and participating in survey studies to determine their population in the wild.

The Boreal Toad Project – Boreal toads are Colorado’s only Alpine toad and live above 8,000 feet. The populations located in the southern Rocky Mountains have experienced dramatic population declines over the past two decades from infection by the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo holds a captive population of Boreal toads in our Amphibian Conservation Center for scientific research. We have participated in a throat pattern identification study and are planning to conduct a health evaluation regarding diet and water quality, and the effect it has on spinal related deformities. Both of these studies help field biologists with boreal toads in the wild.

golden mantella frogConserving Mantella Frogs – There are five critically endangered Mantella frogs, native only to Madagascar, that are being over-collected for the pet trade. Habitat loss and disease also threaten the survival of those still in the wild. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has obtained a collection of Mantella frogs from a trusted captive breeding source and is now captive breeding mantilla frogs to support other AZA institutions and help avoid the collection of wild mantilla frogs in the future. In 2008-2009, the Zoo’s Quarter’s for Conservation program also supported Madagasikara Voakajy, a conservation and research program in Madagascar, which aims to protect Mantella frogs and their habitat through local community education. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff also developed a flash card game to help schools in Madagascar teach about their local frogs and the challenges they face in the wild. Through our support they will further their efforts in field research and community education.

Brian Gratwicke: Why frogs matter

Over the last year I have spent countless hours talking to people, explaining why I’m an amphibian conservationist battling to save some of the 2000-odd species of amphibians that are facing extinction. I’ll bet that the bird conservationists saving warblers don’t get that question as often as I do, because birds clearly do matter. Birds are a very accessible form of wildlife, you can see them in your back yards, and they are the sound of nature. Just a few adrenalin-filled moments spent watching a woodpecker and a cardinal having a fight at a bird feeder is enough escapism to lift the burdens of a hard day in the office. Yet frogs do matter for all these reasons and more. The main difference between frogs and birds is that the bird folks are organized and the amphibian conservationists are only just starting to get their act together. Birdlife International has 4000 full-time employees, RSPB has 1,300 staff, the Audubon Society has 600 employees. Even Ducks Unlimited has 500 employees – all working full time applying their skills to bird conservation! Yet in the whole amphibian world there are only a handful of people are working full-time to mitigate the threats facing amphibians. Faced with this dearth of capacity it is no wonder that just 12% of birds are in danger of extinction compared to 32% of amphibians. Since 1980 we have lost just 5 species of birds but over 120 species of amphibians!

That still doesn’t answer the question why does it matter if they go extinct? Humans have many different kinds of value systems. The most obvious one is goods and services that can be exchanged for cash. The best example of the direct value of amphibians is frog legs. These are a culinary curiosity and have obvious direct value that can easily be quantified in dollars. Most people would be surprised to hear that between 1996 and 2006, over 100,000 tons of frogs legs were imported and had a value approaching half a billion dollars! Every year 100 million to 400 million wild-caught animals are imported and exported to nearly every country in the world.vancouver_frogs-651x1024

This public service announcement from the Vancouver aquarium elegantly captures how important amphibians are to controlling pests. However, it is difficult to figure out how much these ecosystem services are worth if people aren’t paying for them, they are indirect values. The trouble is it’s tough to know how much something is really worth unless someone is willing to pay for it. One example that gives us a clue about what people may be willing to sacrifice for these indirect services is from India. In 1981 the Indian the frog leg trade peaked, when more than 4,000 tons were exported, mainly to Europe earning revenues of $9.3 million. In 1987, however, India banned frog legs exports, arguing that the cost of importing more pesticides to combat pests in rice paddies devoid of amphibians was outstripping revenues earned from frog leg exports. This contention also contributed to the listing of two species that were targeted specifically for food on Appendix II in CITES.

Many people will justify saving the rain forest, because we don’t know what AIDS cure might be out there, and we don’t want it to go extinct before we find out where to get it, something that we’ll call option values. Well, one of my collaborators, an incredible lady by the name of Louise Rollins-Smith recently discovered that the White’s tree frog from Australia produces a kind of chemical called a caerin (pronounced see-rin) that can block HIV transmission to t-cells! In fact, frog-skins are a real pharmacopeia something I’ve tried to communicate in this illustration below.


The gastric brooding frog from Australia may have held a cure for peptic ulcers, a condition that affects millions of people around the world each year. Unfortunately though, its potential benefits went extinct along with both species in its genus in the 1980’s. Looking at this diagram makes one realize that some values are difficult to prescribe in dollar terms. It makes you think about what we are loosing when you hear stories like one from my colleagues in Panama who recently discovered 10 new species in Panama-after they had already gone extinct!

Amenity values are difficult to quantify in dollar terms, yet frogs are one of the most commonly used animals in classroom education in Western countries. 44-64% of all colleges and secondary schools surveyed in Georgia, USA used amphibians for educational purposes. And how many of us had our first real wildlife experiences catching frogs and kissing them to see if they turned into a prince? Or chasing a bullfrog across the garden lawn in a frog-jumping competition with your friends?

Ethical values are, in my mind, the real justification for saving a species. Many people will spend countless millions on a work of art, a unique object of beauty and fascination that enriches our lives simply because it exists. I feel the same way about a species, when we lose it, it can never be replaced. Like many people before me I find frogs fascinating creatures. In Africa, the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility, Hequet, was often depicted as a frog. In Asia Chan Chu, the three-legged money frog is a popular Chinese symbol for prosperity and it is said to bring wealth into your life. In the America’s pre-Columbian indigenous people crafted frogs in gold and clay talismans called huacas. Today, golden frogs are considered lucky, and adorn Panamanian lottery tickets and crowd tables in tourist markets. In more contemporary settings, one has to wonder what the value is of modern cultural icons such as Kermit or the Budweiser trio of frogs named Bud, Wei and Ser?

So you may be saying right now – I’m not convinced, frogs creep me out. That’s OK, but I would beg to differ with you because I know that frogs do matter. I just want to keep them around so that your children and their children can form their own opinions. Not just by looking at catalogues of extinct species in a library somewhere, but by exploring a stream with their friends and discovering these incredible creatures for themselves.

Brian Gratwicke: Chytrid Jumps Canal

It’s official. The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has now spread across the Panama Canal into Eastern Panama according to a study recently published in Ecohealth. Elsewhere in Central and South America, this disease has spread through mountainous regions. According to Karen Lips, a conservation biologist who has studied the problem for years, when Bd arrives at a site,  about half of the species vanish and the remaining species experience massive die-offs.chytrid spread

Conservationists have been fretting for years about what might happen to Eastern Panama’s 120-odd amphibian species when Bd hits. Bd is a disease that cannot tolerate extremely hot temperatures, so it tends to be most devastating in cooler mountainous regions of the tropics that remain cool and moist year-round. The mountainous regions of Eastern Panama are one of the last remaining strongholds of naïve amphibian populations in the New World, and species that tend to have a highland distribution and small ranges are the most vulnerable to extinction.

To add another layer of complexity to this problem, there are many species new to science that we could lose before they are even discovered. According to Dr. Andrew Crawford who studies amphibian genetics, “Eastern Panama has been relatively poorly explored by herpetologists and it is likely that there are several species new to science that live only in this region. What is particularly worrying is that we are facing a huge biodiversity threat, but we don’t have a good idea of just how many species are at stake”.