The extensive investigations of isthmian avifauna made by the renowned Panamanian ornithologist Eugene Eisenmann during the 1950s and 60s significantly influenced and inspired subsequent generations of ornithologists, among them Robert Ridgeley and John Gwynn, author and illustrator respectively of the classic field guide “The Birds of Panama”. In 2005, Ridgeley and Gwynn were instrumental in the founding of the Eugene Eisenmann Aviafuna Foundation, in homage to their mentor, and in the definition of the foundation´s mission, which primarily seeks to ensure the conservation and protection of Panamá bird habitats. In order to accomplish this objective the foundation decided to build the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, which consists of a 150m2 visitor´s center, a 40m tall observation tower and 2km of trails on a 25 Ha site within the tropical humid forest contiguous to the world famous Pipeline Road and Sovereignty National Park.
Both the visitor center and the observation tower were designed in such a manner so as to generate the least possible impact on their respective sites, and as such each of the structures integrates principles of sustainable design, including the construction of facilities on previously impacted sites (the visitor center site had been cleared in the mid-1980s by the U.S. Army for a tropical test center); the use of a photovoltaic system for energy generation; the use of salvaged lumber and steel for structures; the collection, treatment and consumption of rainwater; the treatment and recycling of gray water and the integration of natural ventilation. Construction processes were also carried out so as to generate the least possible impact on the fragile sites, requiring no heavy equipment and relying instead on simple devices and techniques to raise large steel sections into place on the tower and in the visitor center.
Since its inauguration by former President Martin Torrijos in January 2008, the PRDC has been visited yearly by more than 10,000 students, tourists and locals, contributing significantly in this manner to the successful achievement of the foundation´s mission and to the furthering of environmental education in Panama.