Scientists estimate that at least one-third of the world's known amphibian species are under the threar of extinction. Never in documented history has an entire class of species faced such rapid extinction in today's global amphibian crisis. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) estimates that at least one-third of known amphibian species could become extinct.
While habitat loss, climate change and pollution all contribute to the threat, researchers have found that a fungal disease known as Chytridiomycosis (chytrid) is proving exceptionally deadly and is believed to be the major cause of amphibian species’ decline. Experts agree that the only way to prevent the most threatened of these species from becoming extinct is to breed them in captivity, until the chytrid epidemic either runs its course, or methods can be found to eradicate it.
Roger Williams Park Zoo has been a supporting partner of The El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in Panama for seven years. Spearheaded by the Houston Zoo, the EVACC receives support from a number of other Association of Zoos and Aquariums AZA zoos and aquariums, academic institutions, and international conservation organizations. The Center focuses on the research, captive management, and exhibition of western Panama’s endangered and threatened amphibians. A major goal is to ensure that the people of Panama continue to manage these local endangered populations into the future.
To maintain a captive population successfully, the animals must have a healthy diet. The EVACC’s existing method of capturing hundreds of insects each day was becoming very time consuming, threatened to deplete the local populations, and would not have been sustainable as the number of rescued and bred amphibians grew.
From 2007- 2010, Zoo director of conservation programs Lou Perrotti led efforts at the Center to establish captive colonies of native invertebrates to provide an efficient food source for the rescued amphibians there. With funding and additional staff from Roger Williams Park Zoo, Perrotti drew on his invertebrate expertise to build a rearing facility at EVACC. He taught invertebrate husbandry techniques to Center staff so they could properly feed the endangered amphibian species they rescue and breed.
The success of EVACC and the need to expand capacity to establish assurance populations (captive populations of amphibians at risk) in Eastern Panama prompted new partners to establish the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC) in Gamboa. In 2011, a $6,100 grant from Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom made it possible to purchase materials needed to improve the insect breeding facilities, support a staff person dedicated to the insect breeding program, and cover expenses for Perrotti and his partner from Toronto Zoo, Tom Mason, when they made their annual spring trips to oversee the project.
Roger Williams Park Zoo invested $3,000 per year from 2007 - 2012 to develop and support the invertebrate project. Other resources included a previous grant from Disney, funds contributed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Terrestrial Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group, and by our Roger Williams Park Zoo’s chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.
The PARC may serve as an in-country ex-situ program model to other countries facing a drastic loss in amphibian populations in the future, as conservationists around the world try to halt the extinction of these species. Now that the facilities are set up and running on their own, RWP Zoo continues to provide consulting support to the project, with hopes of increasing the number of insects produced and replicating this project in other regions of the world.
Questions? Contact Louis Perrotti, director of conservation programs at Lperrotti@rwpzoo.org or call (401) 785-3510 ext. 335.