News / Americas

Conservationists Trying to Save, Reproduce Endangered Frogs

Zulima Palacio

Forty percent of all the frogs in the world are in danger of extinction, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Pollution, pesticides, climate change and now a fungus are taking a toll on this diverse group of amphibians. Until recently, the central rain forest of Panama was rich in frog species. Smithsonian conservationist Brian Gratwicke is directing a campaign to save and reproduce in captivity some of the world's most endangered frogs.

Sierra Llorona is a tropical rainforest in Central Panama. It's rich in all sorts of flora and fauna, especially frogs.  

That's what Brian Gratwicke and his team are looking for. He works for the Smithsonian Institution and heads the Amphibian Rescue Project in Panama.

"Frogs are disappearing all over the world," said Gratwicke.  "About 40 percent of all of the species that we have sufficient data for, and determined their conservation status, are in danger of extinction."

The group follows the creek for a few hours in search of wild frogs.  Jorge Alberto Gonzalez, their guide, is trained in capturing even the tiniest frogs in the jungle.

But it's getting difficult to find them.  Scientists estimate that 120 species of frogs have vanished over the past 20 years. Most were wiped out by a disease known as Chytrid fungus.

Gratwicke takes a cotton swab and wipes this frog's feet and stomach to collect samples for analysis.  He's looking for signs of the fungus that in recent years has killed nearly 80 percent of the mountain frogs in Central America and is now spreading to warmer, lower regions.  

"What we are trying to do with the Panama Amphibian Rescue Project is to go out into western Panama, before the disease hits, and collect as many frogs as we can of the species that we think would go extinct, and once we get the frogs into captivity we'll try to breed them," Gratwicke explained.

Gratwicke is also a skilled photographer.  He photographs every frog he captures for an amphibian project on the web.

Now, in a park near Panama City, the Smithsonian team has established temporary facilities for the captured frogs.  Inside shipping containers, about 200 frogs are kept healthy in the lead up to breeding them.  

"Here we have a La Loma tree frog," Gratwicke said.  "It's a beautiful green tree frog that has a slight orange eye stripe and is very sensitive to Chytridia Micosis.  It ranges from Costa Rica all the way to Colombia."

Gratwicke says the fungus can only be treated in captivity.  This harlequin frog is native only to Central Panama.

"By the time we started our project, Chytridium had already hit Panama and it wiped out a lot of these frogs," Gratwicke recalled.  "So these ones are very rare now in the wild, their population crashed. This is a very rare frog on the brink of extinction."

Keeping frogs healthy in captivity is not easy.  The challenge is to produce food that has not been contaminated by the fungus.  They also produce cockroaches and worms. In a separate location is a frog's favorite meal: fruit flies in almost all sizes.

"If you see in this coconut fiber this tiny little white specks crawling around, those are the springtails," noted Gratwicke.  "It's the smallest food we can cultivate and that's what the baby frogs eat."  

Back in Washington DC, at the National Zoo, some Panamanian golden frogs are being kept alive.

"This particular species, Panama's national animal, is highly endangered.  We think they are probably extinct in the wild. So these are probably some of the last animals of the species left in the world," Gratwicke said.

Today more than 2,000 Panamanian golden frogs have been reproduced in captivity across the US.   

Why are frogs so important?  Gratwicke says frogs are in the middle of the food chain: they eat insects and they are food for many larger animals.

For humans, scientists believe frog skin contains chemicals that can lead to medical breakthroughs.   

So far, the campaign to rescue frogs has established safety for four species in Panama.  The team hopes to find a cure for the deadly fungus and one day release the healthy frogs back into the rain forest.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Ecuador to Impose Visa Requirements on Cuban Citizens

Objective is 'to discourage the flow of people seeking to reach the United States,' Ecuador's deputy foreign minister says

Destruction of Brazil's Amazon Forest Jumps 16 Percent in 2015

More than 5,800 square kilometers of forests were cleared during the 12 months ending in July, the government confirms — an area half the size of Puerto Rico

Local Opposition Leader Shot Dead in Venezuela

Armed assailants in vehicle shoot Luis Diaz, head of Democratic Action party, in Altagracia de Orituco in central Venezuela

Brazil Corruption Probe Widens; Bank CEO, Senate Leader Arrested

Detentions on orders from Supreme Court raise stakes in bribery scandal that now threatens heights of Brazilian banking and politics

UN Focuses on Global Effort to End Violence Against Women

Sixteen-day UN campaign will attempt to raise awareness about violent realities faced by many of world's women and girls

Canada Extends Deadline to Bring in 25,000 Syrian Refugees

Humanitarian workers across Middle East have been gearing up for massive airlift of Syrian refugees to Canada