Good conservation programs have strong community outreach programs to encourage local persons to care about their endemic species, but in the case of the Panamanian golden frog, the local community of El Valle de Anton, Panama LOVES their golden frog!
In mid-August, the Fort Worth Zoo Assistant Curator of Ectotherms Vicky Poole, along with colleagues from the Maryland Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, and the Detroit Zoo were in El Valle to assist with the community celebrations for the national Golden Frog Festival (Festival de la Rana Dorada), including the following activities you would never believe were part of a conservation program:
- Dressing a colleague up in the golden frog mascot character for the parade (How'd he get to be the "lucky" one? ...He’s the best dancer in the group.)
- · Picking up trash in the pouring rain to prepare for parades, including a carton of very spoiled milk (yuk!)
- · Attending dedicated church services for La Rana Dorada
- · Handing out Salva lo que Amas! wristbands to hundreds of adorable children
- · Taking all week to make a golden frog piñata from scratch for Family Day celebrations, and then standing there when the first kid takes it out on his first whack!
But in all seriousness, this year’s trip afforded the advisory group to the Panamanian Golden Frog conservation and breeding program a chance to have a strategic planning meeting with our Panamanian peers as well as support their outreach efforts.
Most programs would love to have this level of community concern about the species trying to be conserved, and in some ways, the golden frog situation is backwards to most traditional conservation programs because the species is most likely extinct in the wild at present due to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd, a fungus that kills select amphibian species, including the Panamanian golden frog, Atelopus zeteki. Within Panama, “la rana dorada” have been symbols of good luck dating back to pre-Columbian times, so these celebrations for the culturally-significant species go on without the wild frogs themselves, and the Panamanians want their frogs back in the wild!
Luckily, there is a healthy population of golden frogs currently held in US and Canadian zoos/aquariums and at one facility in Panama, the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, that may one day soon fulfill this request. The team, led by Vicky, will keep working to support our colleagues in Panama, and engage the people of El Valle so that when that day comes, the celebration will be off the hook!
Check on the golden frogs in person at the Zoo's Museum of Living Art (MOLA).