When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the crew first told the passengers not to worry. And now that scientists have discovered that a frog killing fungus has somehow jumped the Panama Canal into eastern Panama, they’re explaining it to us in calm, collected prose: “Our results suggest that Panama’s diverse and not fully described amphibian communities east of the canal are at risk. Precise predictions of future disease emergence events are not possible until factors underlying disease emergence, such as dispersal, are understood. However, if the fungal pathogen spreads in a pattern consistent with previous disease events in Panama, then detection of Bd at Tortı´ and other areas east of the Panama Canal is imminent.”

Somebody please sound the alarm and get the frogs into the lifeboats. (More on that in a second.) The discovery that the chytrid fungus has hopped the Panama Canal is the equivalent of a stock market crash for amphibians, and it should strike fear in the heart of every conservationist. Central and South America are home to the planet’s critical mass of ampihbian species.

I’ll be writing about the discovery more in future posts, but for now, go to the scientists’ report in EcoHealth here.

Scientists have feared for some time that the canal would not hold back the spread of chytrid, which clogs amphibians’ delicate skin and basically chokes them to death because they breath through their miraculous skin. This disease, which is indigenous to southern Africa, was accidentally spread around the world in the mid 1900s. The African clawed frog, also indigenous to southern Africa, is immune to the disease and when the medical world discovered the species could be used as a pregnancy test — details here — it was shipped around the world, carrying the disease with it. Chytrid is fatal to 80 percent of amphibian species and has vanquished more than 100 species over the past 20 years.

Which brings us to Amphibian Ark, the organization I support that is in charge of the plan to avert the mass extinction of amphibian species. Studies predict that up to half of the 6,000 amphibian species will go extinct in our lifetime unless emergency measures are taken. It’s not just chytrid killing them off, but also habitat loss, pollution, and global warming. Amphibian Ark organizes zoos and conservation organizations to pluck the most endangered species from the wild, before they vanish, and put them into the “protective custody” of biosecure containers (or “lifeboats”) for breeding. Once the species are brought back to a critical mass population, they can be reintroduced into the wild.

It costs $100,000 to do the work and build the facilities to save one amphibian species. It’s a bargain.

I don’t think I’ve written such a “dramatic” post in this blog, but folks, if there was ever a time to get fired up and take action, this is the moment. The Panama Canal jump is a major breach.

Find out how to help at Amphibian Ark’s Web site. Tell other people. Please. More soon. Can you believe this is happening during the year of the frog?

(I’m grateful for the scientists’ discovery of the Panama Canal jump and don’t mean to be critical of the way they’re writing about the discovery. I know these scientists are passionate about saving amphibians. They’ve just been trained to write in science speak. That’s their job.)

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