March 26, 2019
By Chawna Schuette, Herpetarium Keeper
After spending a week in Quito learning from the staff at the Centro Jambatu, I joined up with our Zoological Manager of Herps and Aquatics, Mark Wanner, to conduct fieldwork with Dr. Luis Coloma, the director of the Centro Jambatu. After leaving the Research Center, we traveled to many places in Ecuador, collecting frogs for Dr. Coloma's research.
The first town we stopped in was Salinas de Guaranda, a small village about 3,500 miles up in the mountains, where the air is very thin. This is more than twice the altitude of Denver, so it was quite an adjustment. I had to walk a little more slowly on the steep city streets, and I needed to take my time as we climbed the mountainside looking for frogs. In Salinas, the adult men were playing volleyball in the town square courtyard when we arrived around midday, and there were several female vendors selling chocolates, hats or scarves on the street. There were dogs everywhere and, of course, I had to make friends with a few. At night, we searched for frogs, collected tadpoles and found a new species of Gastrotheca (marsupial frog).
We stayed in a hostel that night, and in the morning, a guide gave us a tour of the town. We visited the cheese factory, the textile factory, the chocolate factory, an essential oils factory, the natural salt mines and the facility where local liquors are created. It was incredible to see how self-sustaining the town was with all the products it makes and manufactures, many of which are made from things grown and farmed locally, like cacao and sugar cane. Tourism is a major factor in sustaining the culture there, and it was an eye-opening experience.
After we left, we drove a long while toward the coast and the Peruvian border. I was amazed at all the beautiful sights. There were waterfalls and rainforests, and as we drove through the mountains, we were surrounded at times by the dense fog of the cloud forest.
We saw many different types of habitat, but the most impactful sight was the hundreds of miles of banana plantations, cacao plantations, rice fields and mines that have replaced former rain forest. Seeing this with my own eyes made me realize how much we rely on this country to help sustain and feed the world. I also learned how much human culture demands these products, and how much the country relies on this demand to help support their economy. Many families work on these plantations, and it is a way of life. I saw familiar names of bananas that I buy here in the United States. I saw where they are picked and packed and shipped. This was one of those full-circle moments I won't soon forget.