Around 200 critically endangered golden frogs are safely living in fish tanks in Panama to protect them from the devastating superfungus that threatens their existence and a third of the country's amphibian species.
As their name suggests, these frogs are yellow or gold in color with black spots on their bodies. They are cocooned from the outside world inside a fish tank installed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) which is a 5,000-square-foot facility located in the northern city of Panama in Gamboa.
These species are endemic in Panama, but these days, there are no golden frogs that can be seen in its natural habitat because of the threat brought by superfungus that kills the amphibians in the wild. According to the report from the World Wildlife Fund, Earth has already lost more than two-thirds of the vertebrates in less than 50 years.
Today, only about 1,500 tiny Panamanian golden frogs are found in zoos as they are believed to be extinct already in the wild. STRI researchers said that around 225 species of amphibians in Panama are threatened by superfungus, describing the situation as "critical."
Superfungus in the Water
The chytrid fungus poses the greatest threat to the amphibians in Panama. This superfungus can spread through water and is responsible for chytridiomycosis, which is an infectious disease that caused the extinction of some 30 species of amphibians.
It infects the animal by becoming embedded into the skin, which then prevents them from exchanging salts and water with the environment. It causes irreparable damage to the animal's vital functions which then would lead to heart failure that causes its death.
The researchers said that the disease affects populations of amphibians, such as the golden frogs, which is a very devastating phenomenon.
The superfungus was discovered in the Korean Peninsula back in the 20th century, and scientists said that it has already spread throughout the whole world. In fact, it arrived in Panama in the 1990s and has been wreaking havoc since. What's more, the superfungus not only affect golden frogs or amphibians but as well as other species.
Scientists warn that deforestation and other environmental destruction and pollution of bodies of water due to human activities only exacerbate the problem.
Hope for the Amphibians
The scientists do not lose hope despite the gloomy scenario as they see a glimmer of hope because some species believed to have died years ago have been rediscovered.
According to them, there might be species that have developed defenses against the infection, which gives more hope, knowing that some frogs and amphibians are returning.
But STRI continues to house some 2,000 specimens from 12 species of frogs in Gamboa including the golden frogs. They hope that someday they can be released into the wild to fend for themselves. STRI researchers said that the goal was never to detain the frogs forever, but rather to re-establish their populations in their natural habitat.
In an effort of helping the frogs reproduce, the scientists freeze the semen of frogs to impregnate the females and increase their population as amphibians are the most threatened species in the world.
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