This video is about butterflies in Guyana.
Guyana expedition finds biodiversity trove in area slated for oil and gas development, an interview with Robert Pickles
November 29, 2009
An expedition deep into Guyana‘s rainforest interior to find the endangered giant river otter—and collect their scat for genetic analysis—uncovered much more than even this endangered charismatic species.
“Visiting the Rewa Head felt like we were walking in the footsteps of Wallace and Bates, seeing South America with its natural density of wild animals as it would have appeared 150 years ago,” expedition member Robert Pickles said to Mongabay.com.
A PhD student with the University of Kent and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Pickles is currently studying the genetics of the giant river otter in hopes to save this species from habitat loss. While the expedition, which also included tapir expert Niall McCann and local naturalist and tour operator Ashley Holland, found the necessary scat-samples that Pickles sought, they also took data on the biodiversity of one of the Guyana’s Shield‘s most untouched regions hoping to draw attention to a little-known area threatened by big logging and oil companies.
In just six weeks the expedition recorded an astounding variety of life: 158 species of birds, 22 species of medium to large mammals, and half of Guyana’s known endangered species.
“Including,” Pickles says, “all the felids with several captures of puma in the camera traps, the presence of the mighty Harpy and crested eagles, the extremely elusive bush dog, abundant tapir and then just below the Falls is an important breeding ground for the giant South American river turtle.”
Due to the difficulty of reaching Rewa Head, the ecosystem was been little touched by past or present hunters, leaving the animals largely unafraid of Pickles and other expedition members.
“It was quite remarkable the number of game species such as paca and currassow that could be seen and approached with ease. We also encountered four tapir during the expedition […] they were entirely nonchalant about our presence and would quite placidly paddle just next to the boat as we drifted downstream,” he says.
Most surprising, according to Pickles, was the number—and size—of the world’s largest snake found by the expedition in Rewa Head.
“I really have to say something about the anacondas up there though. We encountered 6 during our expedition, four of which were estimated as being over 16 feet. To verify our size estimates we caught a large snake basking on the river bank and measured her length with a rope. She turned out to be 18 feet 2 inches in length with a maximum girth of 27 inches. It was quite incredible to see so many very large snakes. Why do they get so large here whereas in the Venezuelan Llanos they rarely record them over 16 feet?” Pickles said, perhaps describing a future research project for an intrepid herpetologist.
This pristine wilderness—still free from the impacts of the modern world—may not remain so for long. Both a massive logging concession and an even larger oil drilling concession overlap the wilderness.
US-owned company, Simon and Shock International, currently has a license to extract timber from 400,000 hectares.
“The company has stated its environmental principles and has listed a range of measures to mitigate degradation of the concession,” Pickles says. “But the unfortunate fact is that no matter how green your intentions are, it can be very difficult to prevent the creep of hunting into a forest once you’ve put a road in there.”
The oil-drilling concession [of Groundstar Resources Ltd], covering an astounding 78 million hectares, poses similar threats according to Pickles.
Gold dredging has been outlawed in an unspoilt region of Guyana following a local campaign by concerned Amerindian villagers. This is being backed by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL): here.
Road deaths decimating Shetland’s otter population: here.
Anaconda captured at Florida horse park: here.
Finding forest for the endangered golden-headed lion tamarin: here.