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Vancouver Aquarium breeds near-extinct Panamanian golden frogs

Vancouver Aquarium director of animal operations Dr. Dennis Thoney holds a Panamanian golden frog at the aquarium in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday March 27, 2014. The aquarium has successfully bred the frogs, thought to be extinct in the wild, as part of a worldwide effort to preserve the species. They are native to the mountainous, higher-altitude regions of western-central Panama and the goal is to eventually re-populate their natural habitat in the country.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

For the first time in its history, the Vancouver Aquarium has bred Panamanian golden frogs – a species so rare it is considered nearly extinct in the wild.

The brightly coloured, poisonous frog – scientific name Atelopus zeteki – has experienced what the aquarium calls a "catastrophic population decline" in the wild, with about an 80 per cent decrease in the past decade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species classifies it as "critically endangered."

The depopulation is largely attributed to chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease caused by an aquatic fungal pathogen, as well as habitat deforestation and collection for the pet trade. The Panamanian golden frog is native to the tropical, mountainous forests of western-central Panama, of which it is the national animal.

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In efforts to save the Panamanian golden frogs from extinction, the government of Panama provided a number of the frogs to zoos and aquariums around the world – including the San Diego and Maryland zoos – to breed "assurance populations." This marks the first season that the Vancouver Aquarium has joined those efforts.

"Since this species is in critical danger of disappearing from its natural habitat, a number of institutions throughout the world, including ours, are working to maintain the genetic diversity of this species with the goal of one day re-populating their native ecosystem," said Dennis Thoney, the aquarium's director of animal operations, in a statement.

The aquarium now has 15 adult Panamanian golden frogs – five males and 10 females – along with the countless tadpoles that are still being hatched.

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