Toad Mountain Harlequin frogs only live in one area of Panama’s dense tropical jungles – the Darien Province, and their population is down to a dangerous level. In an expedition at the beginning of this year it was reported researchers found just 50 males and 12 females. The reason so many frog species are in peril there, or have already been driven into extinction is the chytrid fungus. Worldwide, hundreds of frog species have been wiped out by it, and more are likely to vanish soon.
The Darien Province, very rich in biodiversity, still has parts of its natural habitat unaffected by the chytrid fungus, and researchers hope they can study how to inoculate the healthy frogs by exposing them to a bacteria that will protect them from the fungus. This strategy has worked for some frogs in the Sierra Nevada, but using the same bacteria on the Panamanian frogs has not worked. They may have to develop another protective bacteria to help the species in the Darien Province. Another possibility is to raise them in captivity, but this practice is expensive, time-consuming and the fungus can still show up in artificial habitats.
Complicating matters is the fact the province is occupied by drug runners and security forces opposing them. A recent research survey team was held up for hours by police – time they could have spent looking for endangered frogs and documenting them. The researchers believe they have about three years before all the Toad Mountain Harlequin frogs are infected with the fungus, and if that happens, they will all die. Actually, without successful interventions, many species of frogs there and around the world are likely to be wiped out by the fungus.
The chytrid fungus is believed to have been spread from African Clawed Frogs that were imported into the U.S. and other countries and bred by the thousands for pregnancy tests. Some escaped and started the fungus spreading in natural waters. Also in the 90s, they became popular pets, and contaminated home aquarium water was improperly disposed of into drains and entered local streams and rivers. Wet boots, fishing, camping, gardening or frog-survey equipment might also be spreading it.
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Image Credit: Amphibian Rescue