The city that croaked

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Text: Ilán Greenfield

Photographs: Juan Pablo Verdesoto

There is a Quito that appeared out of nowhere, in the blink of an eye; an entire city where no cars, roads, buildings, or cement existed. Forty years ago, that city was a garden that did not sound like people, but like nature.

You can ask any forty-year-old today if he or she remembers how the city sounded when they were young. Back then, especially in the northern part of the city, the city lived in a cacophony of ribbits and croaks: the sound of its frogs. The voice that offered these nightly concerts came from the Andean Marsupial Frog, a small, elegant little fellow that lived happily in puddles throughout the city, before these were carpeted in concrete.

Frog song no longer lulls Quiteños to sleep as it did back in the day. Actually, there are few individuals of the species left. As the city developed, the frogs lost their habitat and disappeared. The lack of extensive tracts of green with native plants such as bromeliads and sigse (pampas grass) made its life impossible. And what forty-year-olds remember today, was in fact a Quito before Quito, a new city that was yet the city it would become.

Back then, especially in the northern part of the city, the city lived in a cacophony of ribbits and croaks

In the town of San Rafael, a suburb to the southeast of the city proper, an oasis for this emblematic species exists, you’ll be glad to hear: Centro Jambatu. It operates as a research and conservation center for amphibians. Luís Coloma, Director of the facility, and Lola Guarderas, General Manager, along with researchers who have run the institution since 2011, care for 40 species of frogs which breed at their labs. The property is large, and in every room, tempera- tures are different. Some species need cold, others, jungle dwellers, need more humid environments.

Jambatu Center founder Luis Coloma

A new home for the toads

Out back, a beautiful garden of native species thrives, except for a huge eucalyptus tree that Guarderas claims to have left intact because of its size and age. The place, of course, has its puddles, surrounded by native plants like huaycundos, bromeliads and sigses, home to 15 pairs of marsupial frogs that the scientists have succeeded in reintroducing, a process that is not easy for these amphibians. “When one replants native flora, birds, insects and other animals return. But not frogs. They can’t move in the same way. One has to literally insert them back in to the right environment,” explains Lola.

In Centro Jambatu, the iconic Quito frog still ribbits and croaks, although its voice no longer reaches every corner of the city.

Centro Jambatu will soon be open to the public. For now, groups can visit by appointment with a cost of $10 each.

Revenant Amphibian

In May 2016, Centro Jambatu collaborated in the rediscovery of the Atelopus ignescens, or Black Páramo Frog, a true “revenant”: it came back to life after having been thought extinct for over three decades. According to Coloma, the last time the species was seen was in 1988, and in Quito, 1983. This year, thanks to a report by a group of farmers, scientists found a surviving colony, of which 36 individuals were taken to the center for research, conservation and hopefully re-introduction.

Contact

Giovanni Farina 566 Y Baltra, San Rafael

(02) 286-9688 – www.anfibioswebecuador.ec

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