A species of poisonous frog thought to be extinct in the wild is getting a leg up in Vancouver.

Scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium say critically endangered Panamanian golden frogs have been bred at the facility for the first time in its history.

The brightly-coloured golden toad, native to the mountainous, higher-altitude regions of western-central Panama, has a distinct "wave" used in mating, the Aquarium said.

'Amphibians are key indicators of environmental health in our ecosystems, and they have an important role in local ecology.' - Dr. Dennis Thoney, Vancouver Aquarium's director of animal operations

The breeding program is part of a world-wide effort in partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Species Survival Plan Program, to preserve the species, which has been almost wiped out over the last decade.

"Through this breeding program, the Vancouver Aquarium is joining a global initiative to conserve the Panamanian golden frogs and to save them from extinction,” said Dr. Dennis Thoney, Vancouver Aquarium’s director of animal operations.

Habitat loss and decimation by a deadly type of fungus known as chytridiomycosis are two reasons for the decline, according to Project Golden Frog, which was launched in 1998 to save the dwindling species.

Habitat deforestation and collection for the pet trade are also to blame, according the the Aquarium.

Deforestation and deadly fungus

In an effort to save the golden frogs from extinction, the Panama government provided frogs to zoos and aquariums worldwide in hopes to creating future populations if they were to disappear from the wild.

“Since this species is in critical danger of disappearing from its natural habitat, a number of institutions throughout the world, including ours, are working to maintain the genetic diversity of this species with the goal of one day re-populating their native ecosystem," Thoney said.

The creature, a species of toad, is no larger than seven centimetres and lived almost exclusively in freshwater streams of Panama's high elevation cloud and rain forests.

“Amphibians are key indicators of environmental health in our ecosystems, and they have an important role in local ecology," said Thoney. “Every single species is part of an intricate ecological web, and taking a species away from that web creates an imbalance that may have negative effects on other species.”

With files from The Canadian Press