This expedition is to the spectacular Iwokrama forests on the Guiana Shield, which have the same megafauna species and abundances as the best remaining parts of the Amazon, but are actually within arguably the best-preserved rainforest on the planet. You will spend your first two days in the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre on the banks of the Essequibo River completing a lecture course on Guiana Shield wildlife and conservation, accompanied by practicals teaching you the survey techniques being used. From there, you will spend a week in a forest camp conducting surveys on forest structure, dung beetle communities, reptile and amphibian surveys from standard search transects and spotlighting at night, point counts, soundscape analysis and mist netting for birds, distance sampling to survey primates, patch occupancy and camera trapping for jaguars, pumas and other large mammals, mist netting and sound analysis surveys for bats. This work also helps to support the Iwokrama’s monitoring programme.
The Iwokrama forests on the Guiana Shield in Guyana cover 1 million acres of mainly pristine lowland rainforest, these have been handed by the Guyanese government to the Commonwealth Secretariat to manage as a demonstration site, in a way that protects both biodiversity and develops income for local communities. The first attempt to develop such a strategy was the idea of using the site for ecotourism to sustainably produce income. However, this failed to attract sufficient numbers to what is a very remote area. The decision was made to develop a limited logging programme in such a way that it had minimal impact on the spectacular wildlife of these forests. Half of the Iwokrama Forest was set aside as a Wilderness Preserve where no activities or extraction is allowed. The remaining forest is the Sustainable Utilsation Area of which part is set aside for selective timber harvesting on a 60-year rotation. The area that is set aside for logging makes up only 29 percent of the entire Iwokrama Forest. The thesis that the foresters started with was that only a handful of the species have any commercial value and that only these would be targeted. Detailed maps are prepared of each 1km x 1km block of forest showing the position of each of the trees to be targeted and where the skid trails should be installed to minimize any losses of other species. The net result is that only 1% of trees (5% by volume) in any block are being harvested or damaged by the extraction process. This harvesting seems to produce as much return on investment as traditional harvesting techniques which are considerably more damaging, but does this new approach also minimise impacts on wildlife? The Opwall teams are helping scientists to compare the biodiversity value of a range of taxa in sites that have been recently logged, logged some years previously and pristine wilderness areas.
In 2020 we are starting with provision of help to a research programme in the South Rupununi centred around the Dadanawa Ranch. At one point, Dadanawa was one of the single largest ranches in the world, and it is still an active cattle ranch today. Initial research efforts include surveys on Giant Anteaters, as well as birds of the savannah (including the endangered Red Siskin). This new site will also serve as the hub for surveys up the Rupununi River into the recently protected Kanuku Mountains, with survey work focused on bats, herpetofauna, mammals and birds. To date, very little formal survey work has been done in the region, so the Opwall teams will be gathering valuable baseline data that can help inform the management of the Kanukus, as well as provide valuable contrasts to surveys in the Iwokrama forests of the North Rupununi.
Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.
Guyana is a remote rainforest expedition that begins for the first 2-3 days at the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre, ends at the Surama Village Ecolodge, and otherwise rotates between a series of six survey field camps throughout the Iwokrama Forest.
Each survey camp is different, with some being very basic and without any permanent structures, and with others being more developed. About half the site have long drop toilets and bucket showers set up near the river, and the other half have outdoor showers and flushing toilets. Accommodation at all survey camps is in hammocks with mosquito nets and bashas, which are small tarpaulins. For the start and end of the project at the River Lodge and Ecolodge, accommodation is in simple dormitory-style housing, with showers and flushing toilets. As the particular survey camp order is only finalized a couple of months prior to the expedition, we can give an indication of where you may be going during the training presentation in April.
The weather is generally hot, humid, and rainy for most of the field season. Daytime temperatures averages around 30, with at least some rain common most days. Being in the rainforest during the wet season, you will get wet!