• Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Part 1 – Training Course on Guiana Shield Forest Ecology and Survey Techniques

The first 3 days of the expedition are based at the Iwokrama Research Centre where the students will be completing a Guiana Shield forest ecology course comprising lectures on Guiana Shield geography and structure, survey methods and how the data are used to describe community structure of key taxa, examples of species likely to be encountered and how Reduced Impact Logging is carried out. Mornings, late afternoons and evening will be taken up with small groups of students joining the biologists demonstrating the survey techniques used to quantify bird communities, bat communities, dung beetle communities, amphibians and reptiles, and abundance of target mammal species (e.g. jaguars, tapirs, brocket deer etc) as well as how to measure forest structure and dynamics. In addition there will be short training sessions on forest survival skills such as how to live in field camps in hammocks, navigation and trekking skills as well as the main risks posed by animals and diseases in the forests and rivers and how to reduce those risks.

Part 2 – Biodiversity Surveys in Forest Camps

For the next 6 days the teams will be based in one of the forest field camps and will be completing the standardised surveys required to quantify the diversity of the various taxa. These sites will either be in areas that have already been selectively logged, are due to be logged, or will never be logged (control sites). These surveys include:

  • Bird surveys: Helping an experienced ornithologist with collecting data from mist net captures from dawn to midday. These surveys use standardised mist net hours help quantify the changes in understory bird communities.  All birds captured are measured, data taken on moult and breeding condition to determine breeding cycles, photographed and coloured rings attached to collect data on movements and longevity of the various species before the birds are released. In addition, soundscape recordings from a series of digital sound recorders at each site are collected and analysed in camp.  The software used for the analysis has been ‘trained’ to recognise many of the Guyana species which allows extensive recordings to be analysed for the presence of these species.  Point counts are also completed by the survey teams to provide comparative data sets.
  • Herpetofauna surveys: Assisting an experienced herpetologist with standard search scan samples for reptiles and amphibians. In the evenings transects will be completed to record the soundscapes and these recordings will be analysed by the herpetologist for amphibian diversity and relative abundance from the calls and by the ornithologist for nocturnal birds.
  • Dung beetle surveys: Helping with installing and emptying baited pit fall trap arrays to quantify the dung beetle communities since these are excellent indicators of forest changes.
  • Large mammal surveys: Helping to check and download data from camera traps that have been left for up to 12 months around the various camps.  The groups are involved in analysis of the images and these data used to assess ground based mammal abundance, including the big cats and herbivores such as tapirs, deer and agouti.  In addition the students will be completing transect surveys to collect data on primate abundance (e.g. Black Spider Monkey, Red Howler Monkey, Wedge-capped Capuchin, White-faced Saki) which will not be sampled by the camera traps.
  • Bat surveys: Mist nets run for standard periods of time are being used to quantify the bat communities. Volunteers who have had their rabies vaccinations will be able to help with processing of the captured bats (identification of the species, photographing each bat, measurements, wing punctures for genetic sampling etc) and their release.  In addition soundscape recordings are completed to assess the bat species flying too high for the mist nets.
  • Forest structure and dynamics surveys: Helping a forest ecologist with quantifying the forest structure (age class structure of trees, amounts of understorey vegetation, sapling regeneration, canopy cover etc) of permanent monitoring plots. These data are re-used to quantify changes in the forest. In some sites though there are no permanent forest plots nearby so these surveys are working on smaller plots and quantifying the forest structure around the surveys sites for different taxa.

Part 3 – River Based Surveys

The last 3 days of the surveys will be spent on a river based survey along the Burro Burro River through the heart of the Iwokrama rainforest to complete annual monitoring of key wildlife indicators to the health of the river. These include Giant River Otters, Arapaima (a type of huge fresh-water fish), Caiman, Anaconda and many species of water birds. The teams will start at Surama village in the savannahs of the North Rupununi. For two days downstream drift surveys will be completed and the wildlife records completed. This is a deep forest experience and the teams will be setting up camp on the river bank in hammocks each night and helping the boat drivers and guides porter the boats around fallen trees. The teams will sleep at camps on the banks of the river each night and on the last day will motor back up to Surama.

Guyana Research Objectives

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.

  • Immersion in one of the most intact and remote rainforests left on Earth
  • Learn about Reduced Impact Logging as a revenue-generating method that also maintains the overall structure and diversity of the forest
  • Attend lectures/workshops on Neotropical ecology and conservation
  • Sleep in a hammock in sites only reachable by small boat and fall asleep to the sounds of the rainforest
  • Participate in surveys to sample herpetofauna, large mammals, bats, beetles, birds, and forest structure
  • Assist with river surveys along the stunning Essequibo and Burro Burro Rivers
  • Gain jungle and camp skills whilst working from small forest research sites

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.

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!


  • Guyana
  • Burro Burro River
  • Field Camps
  • Iwokrama River Research Lodge

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Want to get involved with this project?

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