EVACC is financed largely by the Houston Zoo, which initially pledged twenty thousand dollars to the project and has ended up spending ten times that amount. The tiny center, though is not an outpost of the zoo. It might be thought of as a preserve, except that, instead of protecting the amphibians in their natural habitat, the center’s aim is to isolate them from it. In this way, EVACC represents an ark built for a modern-day deluge. Its goal is to maintain twenty-five males and twenty-five females of each species—just enough for a breeding population.At first glance this sounds like a much more agreeable extracurricular overseas activity for a city of Houston-connected operation than those engaged in by, say, the Houston Airport System Development Corporation.
The first time I visited, [EVACC director Edguardo] Griffith pointed out various tanks containing frogs that have essentially disappeared from the wild. These include the Panamanian golden frog, which, in addition to its extraordinary coloring, is know for its unusual method of communication; the frogs signal to one another using a kind of semaphore. Griffith said that he expected between a third and a half of all Panama’s amphibians to be gone within the next five years. Some species, he said, will probably vanish without anyone’s realizing it: “Unfortunately, we are losing all these amphibians before we even know they exist.”
*As Kolbert notes--for all you Darwinists who’ve never read Darwin (like us!)--Darwin himself rejected the concept of “catsrophism,” that is, sudden mass extinctions caused by such events as an asteroid smashing into Earth, a concept now embraced by most scientists.