El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre
To breed and reintroduce amphibians into their former range in Panama
Since the rapid decline and subsequent extinction of the golden toad, Bufo periglenes,
at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica in 1989,
researchers have been monitoring remaining amphibian populations
throughout Central America, where declines and disappearances are
progressing from north to south at a rate of 30-40 km/year. The primary
cause of these declines appears to be a pathogenic fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which is known as chytrid ( Global Amphibian Assessment, IUCN 2005).
In 1999, the international effort "Project Golden Frog" was launched to address declining populations of the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) caused by chytrid and collection for the illegal pet trade. As a result, a robust ex situ
population has been established by US zoos and aquariums, with the
ultimate goal being to return these animals and/or their progeny to
Panama. At a recent IUCN/SSC Amphibian Crisis Task Force Workshop, the
need for emergency centres at or near wild sites was listed among the
highest priorities to prevent the extinction of critically endangered
The Houston Zoo has begun the construction of an ex situ
facility in the golden frog’s natural range at a site known as El
Níspero in the Panama’s El Valle de Anton region. The El Valle Amphibian
Conservation Center will house Atelopus zeteki and several
other native species and serve as a repository and conservation breeding
centre, a treatment facility, and a nature education centre for
Panamanians and foreign tourists.
The Conservation Center will allow for the
isolation of treated specimens from potentially infected populations in
the surrounding forests, as well as for the segregation of animals
under treatment from those in breeding enclosures and in public
exhibit. Houston Zoo staff will be involved in all stages of the
project – facility design, construction, training, reintroduction, and
conservation education – but the ultimate goal is to turn management
over to Panamanians.
In April 2005, Houston Zoo staff conducted a thorough
site inspection at the El Níspero Zoo, determining the location to be
well suited to this project. The Director of the El Níspero Zoo was
then invited to Houston in July 2005 for an informal training program
that involved visits to several other Texas zoos and aquariums that
maintain significant amphibian collections. In addition, construction
plans for the new facility were finalized. In August 2005, ground was
broken for the new El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center. The
construction team included staff from the El Níspero, Summit Natural
Park-Panama, and Houston Zoos. The facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of April 2006.
WAZA Conservation Project 06005 is operated by the Houston Zoo, in collaboration with the El Nispero Zoo at El Valle de Antón (Panamá), which has provided the site and will maintain the facility once it is completed. The partner institutions involved in this project are numerous, including representatives of Project Golden Frog and the Amphibian Recovery and Conservation Coalition. Key institutions involved in the planning process were the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Zoo Atlanta, Denver Zoo, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore all of which hold amphibians that are destined for return to Panama once the Center is operational. The Conservation International's Neotropical Critically Endangered Species Fund, San Antonio Zoo, Zoological Society of San Diego, Moody Gardens (all USA) , Banco Continental - Panamá, Ripard Holding Corp. - Panamá, and Continental Airlines provided financial support. The Summit Natural Park at Panama City provides construction expertise, manpower, and equipment.
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