Over the last two days I’ve been running a ‘theme within a theme’ looking at the parrots of Guyana and the work done by Foster Parrots Ltd’s Marc Johnson and Karen Windsor at their wildlife sanctuary in Rhode Island.
What I’d like to do in this third post is to focus on ‘Project Guyana’, an eco-tourism initiative spearheaded by Marc and Karen through the Maipaima Eco-Lodge, located in Nappi at the foot of the Kanuku Mountains in Southern Guyana, which Foster Parrots paid for and support. It’s a fantastic example of what can be achieved by people who decide to do more than just talk about conservation.
Much of the following account is drawn from four sources:
- The Project Guyana page on the Foster Parrots Ltd website.
- An article written by Marc Johnson and Shirley Melville for the World Parrot Trust’s Psittascene magazine, “Guyana – land forsaken or preserved?”.
- The BBC’s “Lost Land of the Jaguar” pages on the BBC website.
- A (very well-illustrated) article in the Neotropical Bird Club‘s magazine “Neotropical Birding” by Chris Collins titled“Guyana: South America’s overlooked birding destination”.
The four references look at Guyana in different ways, and in combination give a very interesting overview of one of the world’s last great areas of rainforest.
Maipaima Eco-Lodge, Guyana
Located on the northeast shoulder of South America, Guyana stands as one of the world’s last untouched natural treasures. With an estimated total human population of only 770,000 and over 80% of the land mass untouched by development, Guyana is a wonderland of pristine rain forests, savanna lands and abundant wildlife.
Twenty-eight species of parrot and sixteen hundred species of birds in total have been recorded there – many of which are classified as Endangered and Near-Threatened – and include such sought-after ‘world ticks’ as Sun Parakeet, Harpy Eagle, Black-faced Hawk, Guinan Cock-of-the-Rock, White winged and Rufous Potoo, Black Curassow, Blood-coloured Woodpecker, and many funariids.
Mammals are well-represented too and include the Giant Anteater, Giant Otter, Howler Monkey, Tapir, and the Jaguar (the BBC chose to make their stunningly beautiful “Lost Land of the Jaguar” in Guyana, and one of the camerawomen, Justine Evans, says on the BBC website that one of her best moments of the entire trip was “flying in to the base camp over hundreds of miles of untouched forest, a sight I had never witnessed before”).
While her treasures are many, however, so too are her troubles. As Marc Johnson says in his Psittascene article:
“Guyana is one of only two countries in South America that still legally exports parrots and other wildlife for the pet trade. In fact, Guyana has been one of the top exporters of wild parrots in the world, and remains active in trapping and trading not only in parrots, but also in wild cats, primates, reptiles, sea turtles and various other land and sea animals as well.”
Much of this trapping has been done at a ‘subsistence’ level for generations, and in the past has been one of Guyana’s only means of generating income for the indigenous Amerindians. Though some areas have been all but ‘cleaned out’ wildlife is still abundant in most areas. Marc [and others, which we'll look at later in the year] are determined that as the world’s developers turn their attention to Guyana’s abundant natural resources the local people, who are becoming aware of the need to protect their forests and wildlife and are expressing the desire to take control of the ecological destiny of their country, can replace the small amounts they make through trapping with eco-tourism.
Eco-tourism, as Marc writes, will “create sustainable employment opportunities for the indigenous people of Guyana who can bring their acute knowledge of their natural resources and their many skills and crafts to a new and exciting international market. It will not only lend economic strength to participating communities, but will provide a canopy of protection for the native species whose values as wild animals far exceeds the cost of a destructive and self-serving exotic pet trade”.
Eco-tourism does depend on visitors willing to go on eco-tours, of course, and until very recently there were no facilities at all for visitors (and much as we’d all like to imagine we’re an urban-based Indiana Jones at heart, most of us need at least hot water and a bed when we travel). Rather than just bemoan the devastation that Marc said to me in a Skype conversation is on its way, he and Karen decided instead to make a private gift of 25,000USD and construct the Maipaima Eco-Lodge, which is located in Nappi village territory at the foot of the Kanuku Mountains in Southern Guyana. And it was a ‘gift’, as Foster Parrots have no ownership or control of the Lodge whatsoever…
As the Foster Parrots website explains, “Constructed in traditional Amerindian style, the lodge project objective is to serve the needs of the entire village, providing diverse opportunities for Amerindian involvement, encouraging proliferation of arts and culture, and bringing critical educational resources into the Nappi Primary School. It is our hope that the establishment of the this eco-tourism based conservation project will play a significant role in the development of Guyana’s eco-tourism industry and help to protect and preserve the precious natural resources that belong uniquely to Guyana.”
It certainly does to me, and though eco-tourism can bring problems of its own (the huge numbers of visitors coming to the enclosed ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, come to mind) projects in a largely undeveloped country the size of Guyana do appear to be more manageable and far less likely to impact on the country’s wildlife (certainly far less so than mining and lumber operations anyway). And as Marc says in the conversation I had with him in response to a question I put to him about the impact of eco-tourism on the Amerindians themselves, “They’re a very welcoming people and this is what they want and say they need…”
If you’re interested in contacting Marc about a tour to Guyana please email him at marc AT fosterparrots DOT com – alternatively if you’d like to contact me first because you can’t believe this can all be true (it is, I assure you) please do so.
The worst thing we can all do is to approach Guyana with apathy, because as Marc says in a very direct quote:
“Little did we know when we visited [Guyana] that we would be able to take part in an effort to save a small piece of this treasure. If we do nothing more than sit in our “comfy chairs” proclaiming “save the rainforest” it should come as no surprise if in twenty years Guyana’s forests and heritage are just a memory.”