Guiana Shield rainforest biodiversity research experience
This part of the 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 night in the Iwokrama River Lodge and Research Centre on the banks of the Essequibo River. From there, you will move to a different forest camp each week. The camps are based in wilderness areas and sustainable use areas and the surveys will be assessing the impact of reduced impact logging on the biodiversity of the forests. You will be helping with surveys on forest structure and carbon levels, 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.
Developing Amerindian community wildlife tourism
At the end of your rainforest research part of the expedition you will travel to one of the remote Amerindian villages on the savannah. The contrast between the grasslands of the Rupununi and the rainforest is both striking and fascinating, affording the opportunity to encounter a whole new range of species. This week is designed to produce a wildlife ecotourism plan for the community, so the activities will be concentrated on assessing the wildlife encounters from boat trips and trekking trips to different habitats around the community to maximise the chances of visitors encountering species such as Giant Anteater, Black Caiman, Giant Otter, Arapaima, Armadillo in the river, wetland, savannah and forest habitats around the village. Over 600 species of birds and 200 mammal species have been recorded from the Rupununi so this should be a chance to increase your personal species list whilst at the same time helping the community build a sustainable long-term income. There will be a social and economic scientist on site assessing the impacts of the visitors on the community and you will have the chance to participate in these surveys as well. In addition, there will the opportunity to spend time and learn about the culture and customs of the Makushi Amerindians.
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.
The second part of the expedition has a different set of objectives and for this part of the expedition you will be based in an Amerindian community on the savannah. One of the impacts of the Opwall programme in different communities around the world is how it impacts them in terms of protecting their forests and reefs and the species that are attracting all this international attention. In Guyana, recently produced research has demonstrated that income from relatively low numbers of man days of ecotourism in communities such as Surama has changed the attitudes of the community towards wildlife conservation. The Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) have asked if Opwall can help spread this benefit more widely by developing community based tourism plans in a couple of additional remote Amerindian villages as a way of improving their incomes and management of the local wildlife and habitats. The purpose of this week will be to develop wildlife based tour opportunities and how visitors can become immersed in local culture and customs. The GTA will be using the Opwall developed village wildlife tourism programmes as part of an international marketing campaign to bring tourists who want to help local communities and save the spectacular wildlife of the Rupununi savannah and wetlands.
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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!
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