The astonishing variety of nature is laid out row by row. Atelopus zeteki, the golden frog, has no inner ear; how it perceives sound remains a mystery. Centrolene ilex has green bones and translucent internal organs. Gastrotheca cornuta, one of the marsupial frogs, carries her eggs on her back in a pouch, from which her babies emerge as fully formed frogs.

Not all of them will make it, though. Sometimes, the trauma of being caught and doused in antifungal drugs every day for 10 days overwhelms an animal. Or being cooped up in a cage and exposed to feces leads to parasite problems. “In the wild, they just jump away,” Heidi Ross, Griffith’s wife and a fellow biologist, explains as she does an autopsy on a rain frog that looks like a moss-covered rock. “We lose them to diet problems, to parasites. They get stressed out. There’s just the fact that no one has ever done this before.”

Some mornings, Griffith has trouble coming into EVACC. “I look at them in all those little tanks, and they used to have this whole forest,” he says. “Reintroducing them back into the forest … of course, that would be the ideal thing. But sometimes, that seems so far away.”

In the meantime,
researchers are working on a cure for chytrid. Some are studying the few species that can resist the fungus. Others hope that perhaps they’ll find a skin peptide that could shield frogs from the disease. With the fungus’s genome recently sequenced, a few teams are experimenting with ways to neutralize the fungus by changing its genes.

“We’ve tried to brainstorm the craziest of ideas,” says Lips. “The most likely strategy will be to try to work on the fungus itself, since there are thousands of frog species.”

In 2005, the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (ACAP), an international coalition of conservation groups, zoos, universities, and government agencies -- and of which Amphibian Ark is a part -- called for an outlay of $400 million to cover the first five years of expenses in addressing habitat loss, pollution, and illegal trade in endangered frogs. While some ACAP partners have made great strides, the grand budget never materialized, so progress has been slow. However, in April, EVACC opened an exhibition section that allows visitors to see the frogs that used to thrive in the nearby cloud forests, and a related exhibit is being installed at Summit Nature Park–Panama, the zoo near Panama City that helped build the El Valle facility.

“The amphibian crisis is not going to end in 2009 or 2010,” says Adrian Benedetti, director of Summit Nature Park–Panama. “But how can we expect people to care if they’ve never seen a frog? These animals will part the green curtain. They’ll tell the story.”