I went to El Valle a week ago, where my friend Heidi Ross and her husband Edgardo Griffith organized a Festival for the Golden Frog (or Festival de la Rana Dorada in Spanish). The truth is that many species of frog are critically endangered in Panama, including the golden frog (which is actually a species of toad). In fact, la rana dorada (golden frog) may already be extinct in the wild.
Like many amphibians, the golden frog is extremely susceptible to a fungus known as chytrid, which will eventually kill the frog in a disease known as chytridiomycosis. This disease has wiped out many species of frog (and toad) over the past 30 years or so, including the beautiful golden toad of Costa Rica.
The disease has wiped out whole populations of frogs all over Central America, but thankfully Heidi and her husband have been able to save several species from extinction. They run the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), which works to keep these species alive and educate Panamanians about the plight of frogs in their own country. They even have a great exhibit at the El Valle Zoo, which is in a popular vacation spot in the central highlands.
The El Valle Zoo also had a wide assortment of other animals that are native to Panama, many of which are also endangered. In most of these cases, however, the danger doesn’t come from fungal disease, it comes from loss of habitat (as forests are cut down to make cattle pasture) or hunting (mostly for the pet trade or food). Actually, frogs have also been collected for the pet trade (and usually don’t survive long as pets), and many are also suffering from loss of habitat. Even the Panamanian golden frog, if it were ever returned to the wild, would find its old habitats completely overrun by human beings.
Unfortunately, the wild areas of Panama (and the rest of the world, for that matter) continue to shrink, while one species (Homo sapiens) continues to gather more and more space and resources for itself. I don’t think that it has to be this way, and there must be ways for us to live in better harmony with nature, but everyone really has to make the effort if it’s ever going to work. Maybe the start is fostering a stronger appreciation for the natural world, which I will try to do by showing this video of the golden frog in its natural habitat (with the hope it might someday return):
And for more information on the plight of frogs, including the work of Heidi Ross and Edgardo Griffith, The Thin Green Line is an excellent documentary (they show up 20 minutes after the start):