|Cleveland Metroparks Zoo staff and local guides head out to look for the last Panamanian golden harlequin frogs|
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo staff rescued what may be the world's last wild population of Panamanian golden harlequin frogs (Atelopus varius). Twelve frogs were collected from the wild where a deadly disease called chytrid threatened to destroy them. (For a "you are there" frog encounter, read the Zookeeper's field journal)
Chytrid (short for chytridiomycosis) causes the skin of an amphibian to become impermeable to water and oxygen and eventually kills them. Frogs can be treated for chytrid in a captive setting, but there is no known way to eradicate the disease from the wild.
In the past , golden frogs were common in Panama. Golden frogs are admired as good luck symbols. They are often displayed in places such as Panamanian hotels. They are also frequently collected for the pet trade. The frogs have faced a series of threats as human populations in the area continue to expand, but it is the spread of chytrid that truly decimated the species.
The Zoo treated the rescued frogs at the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will keep a breeding pair of frogs and their offspring. The other golden harlequin frogs were sent to the National Amphibian Conservation Center in Detroit, Michigan, an institution with a long history of success with amphibians. This is to ensure maximum genetic diversity and demographic stability.
Hopes are soaring as tadpoles continue to develop from eggs laid by two females. This is an encouraging step towards establishing a captive population of the frogs at the Zoo. One day the golden harlequin frog may again thrive in the wild.