On Thursday graduate students Angie Estrada and Daniel Medina need to spend some time at the Smithsonian arranging transport of the swab samples back to the United States. They arrange for me to visit the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project in Gamboa—a place that is very special to them.
Both Angie and Daniel were lab technicians at the center for several years (some overlapping) when they lived in Panama. They were responsible for managing and caring for a variety of frog species (most of them endangered) by feeding them and regulating ideal living conditions such as constant moisture and the correct kind of light.
I visit the center on Thursday morning and am greeted by Jorge Guerrel and Rigoberto Diaz (photo, right), two members of the center’s staff team. I am blown away by the number of frogs species they have in what amounts to a relatively small space. There are shelves and shelves of brightly colored frogs and tadpole aquariums.
The frogs are kept moist with wet paper towels and are even manually misted from time to time. The temperature of the water for the tadpoles and the lights above the aquariums must be constantly checked and regulated.
Meanwhile, in a nearby room, a huge feeding operation is underway—dozens of crickets, moth larvae and other small insects are reared to feed to the frogs. A special algae mixture is grown for the tadpoles. There is so much life jumping, twitching, and crawling in a small space.
The center’s staff works with ANAM—Panama’s version of the United States Environmental Protection Agency—to decide which frogs to house, explains Rigoberto. These decisions are made based on the level of endangerment of the frog, and whether or not the frog is native to Panama or only found in Panama.
Right now, the center has a special frog in its care. It is Andinobates geminisae—a special reddish-orange frog that was discovered last year in the Caribbean lowlands of central western Panama. Because it is a new species, scientists and conservationists are trying to learn as much as possible about it.
The center is special to Panama and the Gamboa community—many of the staff members are volunteers. PARC is one of the main reasons that both Angie and Daniel decided to continue their studies and get a Ph.D. at Virginia Tech—they were able to see firsthand the importance of amphibian rescue and conservation and the challenges that caregivers face.
Photo: Andinobates geminisae, being shy.