Bleach solution

By Sophie Tessier | 30 July 2012| Costa Rica
1137 - I - Photo credit Everything has to be disinfected with a diluted bleach solution, even the plants have to be inspected Everything has to be disinfected with a diluted bleach solution, even the plants have to be inspected
1140 - I - Photo credit Edgardo Griffith, herpetologist, looking for frogs into the wild. his goal, to place them into the containers. Edgardo Griffith, herpetologist, looking for frogs into the wild. his goal, to place them into the containers.
1139 - I - Photo credit Feeding the frogs every day, a constant concern for the scientists Feeding the frogs every day, a constant concern for the scientists
1138 - I - Photo credit Angie Estrada regularly tests the frogs in quarantine Angie Estrada regularly tests the frogs in quarantine
1136 - I - Photo credit The Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), true panamanian emblem. The belief says it represents good luck The Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), true panamanian emblem. The belief says it represents good luck
1135 - I - Photo credit A container, last shelter for frogs and toads. A container, last shelter for frogs and toads.
1134 - I - Photo credit William Daniel Devenport, a research assistant taking care of the frogs William Daniel Devenport, a research assistant taking care of the frogs
1133 - I - Photo credit The vivariums, sometimes holding the last individuals of a species The vivariums, sometimes holding the last individuals of a species
1132 - I - Photo credit Angie Estrada, a scientist devoted to the saving of amphibians Angie Estrada, a scientist devoted to the saving of amphibians
1143 - I - Photo credit

It’s an unprecedented rescue operation, a sort of Red Cross for frogs and toads. The last two log entries will have enlightened you on the modus operandi of the chytrid, a deadly fungus that attacks our beloved frogs. I’m sure you’ll agree that frogs have always held a special place in our bestiaries and our imaginations. I’m reminded of a famous French song by Félix Leclerc you may have heard of, “Hymne au printemps” (Hymn to Spring), which ends with the words et les crapauds chantent la liberté (and the toads sing of freedom). Here in Panama and elsewhere around the world, that last line is no longer accurate. Toads and frogs no longer sing of liberty. In a sense, many scientists have now become paramedics of the jungle, working to capture and treat them. The ailing patients are taken to shipping containers that have been transformed into veterinary field hospitals. One of the organizations managing these facilities, the only refuges still safe from the enemy, is called Amphibian Ark. For many species, such as the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki), these 20-foot-long steel containers are their only chance of survival. It’s a war of constant vigilance; workers must ensure that no fungus spores get through the door. In simplified terms, spores are like tiny seeds, and they are microscopic and everywhere. They can settle on your clothing with the slightest breeze or stick to your sandals in an infected stream. So what can you do?

So far, part of the solution can be found in plain old bleach. Cheap and readily available, it is very effective for eliminating _ Batrachochytrium dendrobaditis_, the Latin name for the chytrid fungus, commonly shortened by scientists to Bd. Unfortunately, even diluted, bleach is highly toxic to amphibians. So fighting this nearly invisible enemy is a daunting task. Imagine the precautions you have to take: prepare dozens of vivariums in which the sand, rocks, water, and plants have been disinfected; rinse everything with water; soak the infected frogs for 10 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days in a special antifungal solution (usually baths of itraconazole); keep individuals in quarantine and under observation; and finally, once they have been declared “chytrid-free,” transfer them to the container.

When you enter the container, there is a tub filled with diluted bleach for you to rinse off your soles. Under UV lamps, you notice various dials that control temperature, light, and humidity. Each vivarium recreates a mini tropical forest. In the middle of all this, which seems almost like the aisles of a pet shop, is Angie, a dedicated researcher. Every day, she must feed her wards, sterilize instruments, separate individuals fighting for territory and, on the other hand, create havens for potential amorous encounters. She also has to train the small army of volunteers that come to her door.

“Where do we start?” “Well, I guess you could start by rinsing your shoes…”

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