Some students ask about the plants and animals of Panama. There are several places worth visiting. Close to the city, on the Amador, is the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center which has reopened to the public since the pandemic. As you wander around the area you have some fabulous views of the ocean and ships entering or leaving the Canal.
The Smithsonian’s stated mission is the diffusion of knowledge of the past, present & future of tropical biodiversity and its importance for the well being of humanity.
Work in Panama started in 1910. It sent a group of scientists to explore the biology of the area affected by construction of the Panama canal. A dam was planned on the Chagres river. It would create lake Gatun, 85 meters above sea level. The scientists were concerned that flooding of the river valley would threaten existing jungle species. They also worried that the connection between the Atlantic and Pacific would permit invasive organisms to move from one ocean to the other.
You can get more information at: stri.si.edu//sites/default/files/stri-guia-visitantes.2018.pdf. This is in Spanish but most computers will translate or you could test your knowledge of the language.
Scientists continue to study the tropics in Panama today. The Smithsonian operates the visitor’s center for outreach to the public. Knowledgeable staff are ready to answer your questions, and informative signs are spaced around the grounds. A series of buildings line the main pathway. Each is dedicated to specific displays.
In one building, you can see the endangered Rana Dorada, a very tiny frog. Colored bright gold, it is considered one of the most beautiful frogs in Panama and it is poisonous. It is also a national symbol. Other frogs are on display, also, all with signs. Staff will tell you even more details. There is information about the fungus that is killing frogs and toads, the conservation efforts taken, and why we should care.
Another building houses information on the large sea animals like whales and various other sea creatures. Saltwater fish tanks are in yet another building, each tank with explanations of what you are seeing. A new series of freshwater tanks are outdoors, shaded by awnings. They were not fully set up when we were there, giving us another reason to return. Also outside are display boards to help you identify the birds you might see. Signs are bilingual.
We stopped to watch an iguana meander freely along the edge of the path, occasionally taking a bite out of a tasty leaf. Further along the path, a staff member pointed out two sloths napping in the trees. Watch for other animals who consider this area their home.
The scenery is fabulous. Waves lapping against the rocks, the blue water and views of Panama in the distance. We watched a heavily loaded container ship make its way out of the canal, headed for the Pacific Ocean and its next destination. You might see a cruise ship.
Definitely worth a visit.