The Panama Pumilio Protection Project

Update 12 - 22 - 2010

During the past year i have visited 40 locations of the Pumilio, these populations are generally in good shape. There are two locations that require more attention.
1) Location Punta Clara, in recent years some developments in this field took place, but the population is not affected. The common color form here lives generally on open field, trapping of animals here is the greatest threat, negotiations are ongoing with the owner to make a solution for this.
2) A population as recently as six years ago was a fairly large population. Now the population was significantly reduced (approx. 60%). The population size is mainly determined by: enough food, enough places for the eggs, weather and habitat. Research showed here the food supply to stagnate. That area includes dozens cocoa trees in the past by Native Americans planted. (In about 60-70% of pumilio populations Cocoa trees are found), the cocoa trees here are about 50 + years old, which gives little or no fruit. The fallen fruits are simply a major food source for fruit flies and other small insects. Immediately Cocoa trees are grown and planted in these locations.

Although it may take 3-5 years for fruit production gets going, I have to trust that the population in the future comes back to normal size. In any case, this population in the coming years are well monitored.
The territory of these 40 sites is a small percentage of the entire area where the Pumilio occurs. Consequently there is enough area left, to investigate in the next few years.

The construction of the student apartment has stagnated because of deficits in funds.

Chris van der Lingen.

Keeping poison dart frogs, a beautiful hobby and a great way to study these animals. However, it is even better to study them up close in their natural habitat. In a period of six weeks in 1996, a friend and I traveled through Costa Rica and Panama. During this time I discovered a immensely vast area of scenic beauty which has never seized to astound me. That is why I have already traveled back there fifteen times, nine of which with my wife, Wilma, who has also become fascinated by the beautiful forests and wildlife in the area.

On my journeys I have been able to combine my love for poison dart frogs with one of my other hobby’s; filming. I have already shot a lot of material, which I am using to create a documentary that will hopefully be finished at the end of the year. Because I had already captured many subjects on video over the years, I started focusing more on photography during the last couple of years. I mainly photograph frogs and other small subjects with a macro lens. While traveling I kept spending more and more time in Bocas Del Toro in Panama, the natural habitat of many variants of Dendrobates Pumilio. I have found many of these beautiful frogs’ habitats in this area.

In 1999 I was anxious to find out what species of frogs lived in the area of Escudo de Veragaes. There were rumors of coloured frogs, but despite several searches on the internet, I couldn’t find any conclusive information. Finally I travelled to the island and I managed to find several beautiful frogs. I shot several hours of video, took many pictures and placed a collection of these on my website, Unfortunately, this meant that everyone could now locate these beautiful frogs. Despite not being easily found, with their habitat located on an island some 12 kilometers off the coast, several frog enthusiasts managed to capture some for their personal collection. In any case I learned a lesson from this experience and decided not to name a newly discovered species after the region I found them in. Instead I chose to name them after the lady that pointed me to their direction and called them “Punta Clara”.

Currently the frog population of the Bocas is quite stable. Pumilio’s and other frogs aren’t affected much by poisonous fungi, which are mainly found in the higher regions. During my last visited in March I’ve been to several locations where I could hardly walk without stepping on a Pumilio because of the dense population. These populations are mainly threatened by the sale of large quantities of land, the cutting down of trees and the illegal capture and trade of these frogs, causing the biotope to change dramatically and their numbers to decrease.

A Danish friend told me a shocking story about a population near Fortuna, of which about five hundred frogs were caught by three man during the course of one day. In 2004 i went on a trip to photograph two well know, large and stable populations on Bastimentos and Colon. I was struck to find out that the population on Bastimentos was completely gone. There were “for sale” signs located on the land and all the Allocasia’s, the frogs natural delivery rooms, were cut down.

On Colon a population of more than one hundred frogs has completely disappeared. Fifty meters from their habitat, the land was cut clean of trees and vegetation, causing a warm, dry stream of air to flow over the biotope. Even after hours of searching I could not find a single Pumilio. These developments greatly concerned me and changed my way of thinking about the subject. It is very important to protect the unique frogs living in small and isolated biotopes, because once these biotopes disappear, these colorforms are lost forever. This is why I started the Panama Pumilio Protection Project (PPPP).


My goal was to research mainly the small biotopes with uniquely coloured species and map the populations and vegetation in these areas. If small populations of a unique species is found, it can be possible to protect these animals by making arangements with the owners of the land, or to buy the land and turn it into a reserve. Due to the vastness of these areas, the research will take many years. I have had several conversations with ANAM, the Panamanian nature protection organization and they are very enthusiastic about the plans.

Preliminary research

In march of 2005 I completed the first research for the project. It describes the development on Red Frog Beach. A group of investors is currently building roads and large scale housing projects on Bastimentos. On this land, approximately 68 acres is size, a total of eight hundred houses will be built, selling from 250.000 tot 650.000 dollars. They’re currently working on the first three phases of the build. There were several messages on Frognet from people that wanted to visited Red Frog Beach and look at the frogs, but couldn’t, because the area was sealed off and no one was allowed to pass. Some were afraid that these developments were disastrous for the frog populations in the area. After talking with the management of the building project I was allowed to research the status of the population. I met with the company’s biologist and after showing the permission I obtained, I received a badge that allowed me full access of the location. Despite the biologist’s lack of knowledge of the English language, we still managed to understand each other quite well. The housing project is circled in red. The area in white represents the current build (phase 1). Once this phase has been completed and the houses have been sold, the work on the next phases of the project will begin.

Populations of Pumilio in the area

There are three areas that are important for the Pumilio population. These areas are marked A, B and C.

Area A is a dense, hilly forest environment stretching 5,5 acres that houses a large and stable population of frogs. The plan is to leave this area untouched and to protect it from changes that could threaten the population.

Area B consists of a stretch of green near the beach. The lack of vegetation and the changing weather make for a unstable population. During the last years the number of frogs in the area ranged from about 50 to 200. Because there are very little young frogs found in this area, it is believed that most of the frogs located here came from different locations in the surrounding environment. The building of houses on this stretch will definitely have an impact, but will probably not endanger the entire area.

Area C is the best know and visited location to find Pumilio’s. On this hill, that is partially submerged in the ocean and features dense vegetation, a large population of Pumilio’s can be found. While climbing the south side of the hill I regularly found a number of Pumilio’s. On the top of the hill I noticed a large number of young frogs. After further investigation it appeared that, especially on the seaside, there was a stable population with lots of young frogs. Because the hill will remain open for the public and because of the large number of expected visitors due to construction in the area, I have advised fencing off the top of the hill and putting up the familiar signs, to ensure the protection of the mating habitat of these frogs.

Area D is the busiest location, where many new roads and houses are being built. Most of the land consists of grassy hills. This is obviously not suitable for Pumilio biotopes. Research with small parcels filled with vegetation did not provide the desired result.


The running housing projects will not have a big impact on the Pumilio population, as long as the advice on the hilltop in area C is followed properly. The project’s biologist has taken notes and has promised to take the necessary measures. We left with the assurance that we will be able to continue our research in the future, when the current phases of the housing project are finished and the next are started.

Red Frog Beach Situation in 2008

Because of several different circumstances in the last years, the development and build of the housing projects have been seriously delayed. The development of phase 2 won’t start for at least a couple of years.

Next research

In the beginning of 2007 Dirk de Wit and Roy Morssinkhof of the University in Wageningen got started with the first research for the project, lasting four and a half months. After intensive research they have mapped the Pumilio populations of the western half of the island of Colon and the whole of the island Solarte (cayo Nancy). These populations are not yet vulnerable to extinction because of the vastness and diversity of the land and the fact that their habitats are hard to reach. Meanwhile several unique populations on other places have been found that require further research.


The search for suitable housing for the researchers wasn’t an easy task, because of the increasing prices and lack of availability. Due to the rising cost of fuel (needed for boat trips to the islands) and housing, whe have decided to take action. This year we will start the build of an apartment made especially for students and other frog enthausiasts that plan on doing research. This apartment will be made available for a small sum of money or for free (depending on sponsorship). There will also be a financial reserve made available to cover fuel cost.


The PPPP is looking for sponsors. You can sponsor the project by making a donation via to Make sure to note your full name or the name of your company or association.
Donations starting at 70 euro (100 dollars) will make you a bronze member.
Donations starting at 350 euro (500 dollars) will make you a silver member.
Donations starting at 700 euro (1000 dollars) will make you a gold member.

The funds will be used for the build of an apartment (estimated cost 24.000 euro) and the reserves for fuel. Donators will receive the following in return for their donation: Bronze members will receive a half day tour to Pumilio populations (excluding fuel cost). Silver members will receive a full day tour to Pumilio populations (excluding fuel cost). Gold members will receive a full day tour to Pumilio populations, including breakfast, lunch and diner (including fuel cost).

On behalf of the Pumilio populations we thank you.

Chris van der Lingen