The mountain slopes of the Central Cordilleran rainforests of
west-central Panama are home to the few remaining populations of the endangered
Panamanian Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki. The Golden Frog is
an icon in Panama much as the bald eagle is in the USA. The Golden Frog has
become a national symbol of Panama. Everything from t-shirts to lottery tickets
carry the frog motif.
Pre-Colombian indigenous peoples considered the frog sacred. They made gold and clay idols of the frogs, known today as huacas. The frog huaca represents fertility and is now the logo of Project Golden Frog (PGF), a conservation project. Legend says that the Ngobe tribe believed that the Golden Frog would transform into gold huacas upon death. Hence, anyone seeing or owning the frog alive would have good luck.
A group of biochemists isolated unique neurosensitive tetrodotoxins in the Golden Frog: zetekitoxin AB and zetekitoxin C. The presence of these unique tetrodotoxins has been used to distinguish one species from another and has resulted in the elevation of Atelopus zeteki to full species status. In addition to sounds, Golden Frogs communicate with semaphores, a hand waving phenomenon that is not fully understood. Knowledge of the population numbers of A. zeteki and its breeding behavior and time of breeding, is minimal.
Due to population growth, farming, and illegal collection, the Golden Frog of Panama has a narrow chance for survival outside of the national park system. And now there is a new threat that could give the final blow to the species. A chytridiomycete fungus, called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, recently has been found in three different places in western Panama. It is believed that this pathogenic fungus disables and eventually kills the frog. It is estimated that within four years all middle to high elevation amphibians (including the Golden Frog) will be killed. Keeping the spread of this disease from populations within the national park system is believed to be impossible .