PANAMA (CBS) -- Panama celebrated the golden frog on Tuesday (August 14) in a national day aimed at aiding conservation efforts and drawing attention to the plight of the amphibians which are at risk of being completely wiped out.
The Panamanian government has also created a national golden frog festival, which includes a series of activities and events taking place from August 10 to 19.
The festival comes during what many see as a crisis for the golden frog, Panama's national symbol. Over the past two years, a deadly fungus spreading through Panama has been killing thousands of amphibians and endangering the golden frog.
The golden frog is one of Panama's most ubiquitous images, appearing on everything from lottery tickets to guidebooks. It even comes with its own legend - according to pre-Columbian lore, the frogs turn to solid gold when they die. Many Panamanians also believe a golden frog sighting brings good luck.
Activities for the festival include exhibitions, competitions and presentations carried out by biologists.
"I urge you to celebrate, investigate, read and inform yourselves about the situation these amphibians are going through so that you are able to support us knowing that the situation exists and something important is that thanks to the golden frog we are able to look after several other amphibian species," said biologist and founder of "El Nispero" Zoo, Edgardo Griffith, who will be giving some of the talks.
Ecologists say the frog is in grave danger, and estimate that 80 percent of the population will die out within ten years. Experts say the fungus, which causes a highly infectious disease called chytridiomycosis, arrived in Panama in the early 1990s, although it wasn't detected until October 2004.
Griffith, who also works with Tropical Amphibians Declines in Streams (TADS), said the only way to conserve golden frogs was to start breeding them in captivity.
The origins of this life-threatening fungus are unclear, although one theory is that it originated in South Africa before making its way through various other countries to Panama.
A new initiative, in collaboration with Houston Zoo, is attempting to ensure that the famous amphibian does not die out altogether, with funds being used to upkeep the El Nispero zoo in Panama's Valle de Anton, the frog's natural habitat.
"The message is that people know this special day exists and not only because the golden frog represents an icon for our culture but also because animals are in danger, we have to conserve them, we all have to support the cause and there are things we can all do to help," said a researcher at the Summit Nature Park Panama, Angie Estrada.
Activities will conclude with a parade as well as a sand figure building competition at local beach "Playa de los Cangrejos."
Initial studies indicate that the fungus in question is the same one that has affected amphibians in other countries, leading to fears of a pandemic. Whatever its nature, experts are racing against time to attack the fungus and ensure that the croaking of Panama's treasured golden frog does not become a thing of the past.