Salva lo que amas!
Hello everyone! It’s Kelly here, Lead Keeper of the Herpetology Team. This past March I got the amazing opportunity to volunteer for a week at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in El Valle de Anton, Panama. Zoo Atlanta has been working with this organization for several years now but, with COVID we haven’t been able to get down there to help them out in a while. So, when they sent out a call for volunteers, I set in motion to apply for Zoo Atlanta’s professional development grant to go down there and help. Lo and behold, I got the grant and so off to Panama I went!
This was my first trip to Panama, and I must say it was an adventure! As I was travelling on a budget, I decided to take the local bus ($10 round trip) up to El Valle, which is typically around two and a half to three hours from Panama City by car. Taking the bus made it a little longer with the various stops, so it took me around four hours to get there. Now, when I say bus, what you are probably envisioning is a nice, large coach bus where everyone has a seat and luggage storage underneath. But no, these are not your conventional buses, but smaller 15–20-seater minibuses that are decked out to their owners’ tastes, and with loud music, typically reggaeton, cumbia, bachata, and the like, played overhead. Mine was decked out in pink and black with a “psycho bunny” as its logo. It was fabulous! I luckily got on at Albrook Mall, which is the main bus terminal in Panama City, so I was able to get a seat, albeit with all my luggage on my lap. By the time we got up to El Valle it was crammed with people standing in the aisles, but it was well worth the experience!
Once I made it to El Valle de Anton, I met up with Edgardo and Heidi who run EVACC. I had met Edgardo almost 20 years ago when we both took the AZA Amphibian Biology and Management course. At that time, they were just starting to set up the center with the local Zoo in El Valle and had one frog pod (modified shipping container) where they were rescuing and raising the Panamanian golden frogs. Crazy how time flies!
The current center moved to their new location on the grounds of the Hotel Campestre in 2019. It is made up of three frog pods (where the animals are kept, and live food cultured) and the new visitor’s center. The visitor center is an old house that comprises EVACC’s main office, two cabina’s (rooms to let for visiting researchers and volunteers like me), a kitchenette, gift shop, and a small native frog exhibition. The exhibition and gift shop just opened in late 2022 and was added to support operations and really highlight the amazing work that EVACC does. For a mere $3/adults and $1/children you get to see the frog exhibition and learn about the native amphibians of Panama, including the renowned Panamanian golden frog, the national symbol of Panama. Here, you can learn their story firsthand from the people that actually helped save the species from extinction. It really is a bargain, and if you haven’t heard the story of the golden frog, I highly encourage you to read more about it. Check out https://www.ranadorada.org/ and https://evaccfoundation.org for more information.
The visitor’s center is where I spent most of my time in Panama. In the morning, I would service all the habitats in the exhibition space, and then would man the front desk and talk with visitors once open. Since it is a relatively new center, most people coming in the door were there for the Sendero de Arboles Cuadrados, or Square Trees trail
that EVACC manages for the hotel, which they get a portion of the entrance fee as another revenue generator (every little bit counts!). Therefore, it was my job to try and work on my marketing and sales skills to upsell them to come in and see the frogs and purchase a souvenir of their trip. It honestly wasn’t that hard, and most people were more than happy to come into the air-conditioned space (definitely needed after the hike!) and chat about frogs, EVACC, and conservation. I met so many nice people and got to work on my mediocre Spanish too. It was a very rewarding experience!
In my downtime I would bird watch from the front stoop, make friends with the local pups, and input data into the EVACC mailing list database. In the evenings I would hike the Sendero de Arboles Cuadrados and pick up trash along the way and look for any safety issues (mainly fallen trees over the path as it’s super windy in March). Then at night I would go out herping (looking for reptiles and amphibians) and collect katydids and grasshoppers to feed to the EVACC animals. Heidi also took me around to see some of El Valle de Anton’s many highlights: a bingo fundraiser for EVACC, local festival (Festival del pan de Leña), the El Valle Expo 2 (like a mini Comicon) where I met some Jawas, took me to see a local sloth rehabilitator, and threw me a birthday party too. All in all, it was a truly fabulous trip! It is remarkable what EVACC does with such a small staff and small budget. They have literally saved a species from extinction, partnered with the Panamanian government, as well as many U.S. zoos and aquariums, all to save this little, yellow, charismatic frog. And their story isn’t finished! EVACC is working with said government and zoological institutions to find ways to reintroduce the frogs back in the wild, unfortunately they aren’t there yet, but I know with Edgardo and Heidi on the case it’s only a matter of time. I for one hope to continue to help in any way I can, and I hope you will too! So, come visit us at Scaly Slimy Spectacular and see this amazing little, yellow, charismatic frog for yourself and continue to follow the story of EVACC and the Panamanian golden frog. Salva lo que amas! Save what you love!