Shipping industry sends help as project in Panama tackles amphibian crisis

April 23, 2010

As a disease known as amphibian chytrid fungus continues to wipe out amphibian species worldwide, frogs in Panama are finding a safe haven in a seemingly unlikely spot—between the metal walls of shipping containers once used to transport ice cream, strawberries, coffee beans, flowers and pharmaceuticals. Two of six refrigerated containers to be donated by the shipping company Maersk Line arrived this week at Summit Municipal Park in Panama City, Panama, where the Smithsonian Institution and partners are working to save amphibians in imminent danger of extinction.

"Each container provides us with critical space to house animals that may represent the last chance for the survival of their species," said Brian Gratwicke, a National Zoo research biologist and the international coordinator for the Panama Rescue and Conservation Project. "The containers are now self-contained 'amphibian rescue pods' that have been specially modified to control the climate and keep diseases out."

The rescue pods will be part of the project's Amphibian Rescue Center at Summit Municipal Park, which will also include a lab with a quarantine facility. After frogs are collected in the field, they will be quarantined for 30 days before being moved to the rescue pods that will serve as their new home. In addition to the two containers that are now in Panama, Maersk Line has agreed to donate two containers per year for the next two years to the project, for a total of six. Shipping company APL has also donated one container this year. Each container offers 995 cubic feet of space to house these animals. The seven together will more than double the amount of captive space the project currently has in Panama to safeguard endangered amphibians.

"Maersk Line's support of the amphibian rescue project is aligned with our long-term focus on sustainability," said Mike White, head of Maersk Line's North American organization. "Although we are pleased to donate these containers, the more valuable contribution is our expertise and resources. Our team's assistance with documentation and transportation allows Brian's group to concentrate on the overall effort."

Amphibian Ark, an organization that mobilizes support for ex-situ ("out-of-the-wild") conservation, has identified 54 amphibian species as rescue species for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and . At least 198 amphibian species live in , of which 70 are listed as "critically endangered," "endangered" or "data deficient" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Amphibian Ark estimates that about 500 amphibian rescue pods are needed to save the world's 500 critically endangered amphibian species. Buying, outfitting and installing a single container costs about $50,000.

"This requires an amount of resources that is insurmountable for the amphibian rescue community," said Kevin Zippel, Amphibian Ark's program director. "With a relatively small investment, the shipping industry has made a huge impact on one of the greatest conservation challenges that humanity has ever faced. We are currently seeking additional contributions of this kind."

Explore further: Panamanian amphibians attacked by fungus

Related Stories

Saving frogs before it's too late

May 6, 2008

With nearly one-third of amphibian species threatened with extinction worldwide, fueled in part by the widespread emergence of the deadly chytrid fungus, effective conservation efforts could not be more urgent. In a new article ...

Catching a killer one spore at a time

October 19, 2009

A workshop at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has dramatically improved the ability of conservationists and regulatory agencies to monitor the spread of chytridiomycosis—one of the deadliest frog diseases ...

Recommended for you

A common mechanism for human and bird sound production

November 27, 2015

When birds and humans sing it sounds completely different, but now new research reported in the journal Nature Communications shows that the very same physical mechanisms are at play when a bird sings and a human speaks.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.