When those Rio Maria frogs tested positive for chytrid, a scientific alarm went up. The cloud forests around El Valle, which were once the ideal home for 69 described frog species, were turning toxic. Experts figured they had about four months until most of the frogs would be dead. Even on the fast track, organizing funding and a rescue strategy takes time. Meanwhile, Griffith went out into the forests without funding and began tracking and monitoring the situation until the proper permits and plans could be arranged.

By June, 26 institutions had committed money, people, and equipment to the effort. Teams fanned out into the forests at night to collect still-healthy frogs. Soon, they had hundreds of biological refugees.

But now they had another challenge: where to give the amphibians safe haven? El Valle de Anton, known among Panama’s elite as a place of retreat to escape the crushing humidity of the Canal Zone, lacked the facilities needed to create a clean zone for ailing amphibians.

The little resort town did have a small zoo, though, called El Nispero (the result of a nursery collecting local animals as well as plants). And when the owner of a local hotel who sat on the zoo’s board offered the frogs asylum, biologists quickly set up a makeshift quarantine in rooms 28 and 29 of the Hotel Campestre, a colonial-style establishment at the foot of soaring volcanic cliffs.

Ridding the frogs of chytrid proved relatively simple in captivity: The team gave the amphibians a 10-minute bath in itraconazole, a common antifungal drug, every day for 10 days.

Building a permanent home for the frogs on El Nispero’s grounds, though, proved anything but simple. To keep out chytrid, the frogs needed a separate, filtered water supply. That required earth-moving equipment, which had to be driven in all the way from Panama City. Because the valley floor often gets too warm for most of the species, a huge air-conditioning system that would have shorted out El Valle’s electrical grid was required, so a whole new transformer had to be installed for EVACC. The animals needed plants and moss in their tanks, but in order to make sure no fungus survived, the plants first had to be completely disinfected and the moss had to be imported from New Zealand. And the Panamanian acrylic panels for the tanks didn’t stick with North American glue.

“Every day, it was something,” remembers Griffith. “It was difficult to find parts, difficult to find workers with the skills we needed. Sometimes, we’d have to go to every hardware store in town just to find a piece of PVC pipe.”

Finally, after 10 months, about $200,000, and untold hassle, the frogs moved into their permanent home in March 2007. Today, it looks like a small schoolhouse: a box of concrete bricks with a green metal roof. You enter through a sliding glass door into a large room lined with glass tanks with acrylic lids kept moist by the same misting system you might see in a supermarket produce section.