Cocooned from the outside world, some 200 critically endangered golden frogs are living a sheltered existence in Panama, protected from a devastating fungus that threatens to wipe out a third of the country’s amphibian species—a situation scientists describe as “critical.”
The frogs, which are yellow or gold with black spots, enjoy a controlled environment inside fish tanks installed at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a 465-square-meter facility in Gamboa, north of Panama City.
Though endemic to the lush Central American country, no Panamanian golden frog can be seen in its natural habitat, threatened as it is by the chytrid fungus—a so-called “superfungus”—that has decimated amphibians in the wild.
According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published this week, the planet has lost more than two-thirds of its vertebrates in less than 50 years.
The situation is especially dire in the tropical areas of Central and South America, where the extent of loss is pegged at 94 percent.
Believed extinct in the wild, only about 1,500 of the tiny Panamanian golden frogs are found in zoos where they can reproduce.
But it is not only frogs that are vulnerable to the fungus. Toads, salamanders and caecilians —limbless amphibians similar to snakes–are also at risk.
“In Panama, we can say that about a third of the 225 species of amphibians are threatened in some way,” said STRI researcher Roberto Ibanez.
Gina Della Togna, a specialist in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Maryland, described the situation as “critical.”