A mysterious fungus is quickly killing off frogs around the world. Why does this matter? Because when frogs begin to disappear, bad things start to happen.
The astringent smell of bleach hits you immediately when you enter the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC) in El Valle de Anton, Panama. As you slip off your contaminated street shoes and trade them for sterilized plastic slides, the fumes seem to take an almost physical form. Thats no accident: This modest concrete-block building has become a bunker for what may be the last survivors of dozens of endangered frog species, and the bleach forms part of the security barrier against the outside world.
Beyond the Clorox cordon, though, the landscape remains achingly beautiful. EVACC sits in a broad volcanic crater, the second largest in the world. From the rim of this long-dormant volcano, a series of mountain ranges reaches north through California and then all the way to British Columbia. Panamas mountains and strikingly varied habitats form not only a crossroads for world trade (along the Canal Zone) but a biological crossroads as well.
Along this narrow isthmus, animals and plants from two continents mix, creating a hooting, buzzing, chirping, croaking, hissing kaleidoscope of biodiversity. Approximately 1,000 bird, 225 mammal, 214 reptile, 165 amphibian, and tens of thousands of insect species exist here, making the region a destination for birders, biologists, and ecotourists alike. All this life creates a din as assertive as a discotheque -- usually.