Who? Sjoerd Schimmel, Master’s student of Biology
What? Internship at Bolivian Amphibian Initiative
Where? Isla de la Luna, Bolivia
‘Bolivia is an extremely diverse country in terms of nature, but relatively little is known about it still. One of the least studied animal species is the severely threatened Titicaca frog. This frog has a funny nickname – scrotum frog – because it is so wrinkly. It has an excessive amount of skin in order to be able to breathe under water. During my internship I tried to find out more about the life cycle and population of the species. I did that from the tiny island Isla de la Luna in Lake Titicaca.
The island was little more than a rock in the lake, which lies at an altitude of 4000 metres. This can make it physically tough to observe the frogs under water while snorkelling. It was not always easy mentally either, because the small population of the island only speaks Spanish. My basic knowledge of Spanish made it difficult to communicate with them. Due to the lack of electricity, internet and social contact, I looked for other ways of entertaining myself, like reading and playing the guitar.
Besides this research on the island I also supervised students in a museum in the city of Cochabamba. That was satisfying because I could really teach them something. Bolivia is a terribly poor country: I underestimated that at first. For the students I was a ‘rich’ European who they looked up to. For them there was a clear hierarchy. I had to tell the students that they were working with me and not for me. In spite of these culture differences we got on well. I quickly made friends with them.
Every day was an adventure in Bolivia. When I look at the photos I long to go back. It is such a beautiful, unspoiled country where a lot of the nature still has to be documented and protected. I hope I may be able to contribute to that in the future, however little.’