Philippe Kok, a Herpetologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences returned recently from his sixth trip to the Kaieteur National Park. He was accompanied by Michelle Kalamandeen of the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity at the University of Guyana (UG), Paul Benjamin of Chenapau Village, and Giuliano “Kinky” Seegobin of Menzies Landing.
The research team found an astonishing variety of frogs (some species were new to science) and many lizards and snakes in the Park. Between 2005 and 2006 Kok described five new species at Kaieteur, most of them endemic to the Park. These species include two new lizards, Gonatodes alexandermendesi, – named after Alexander Mendes a third-generation Guyanese from Georgetown, who also manages Dubulay Ranch on the Berbice River and the Kaieteuro-saurus hindsi – named after the Honourable Samuel Hinds, Prime Minister of Guyana.
Kok also described two new frogs. The Colostethus kaiei named in honour of Kaie, a great Chief of the Pata-mona tribe, after whom the Kaieteur Falls was named and the Hypsiboas liliae named after his daughter, Lili. Atractus tamessari, the only new snake species discovered so far, was dedicated to Mike Tamessar, a retired Senior Scientific Officer of the Department of Biology at the University of Guyana.
Local counterparts Hemchandranauth Sambhu, Indranee Roopsind and Godfrey Bourne co-authored one of the description of one of the new frog species and Gonatodes alexandermendesi was described in collaboration with Jay Cole of the American Museum of Natural History. Seven other scientific papers describing new findings on ecology and redescribing some species were also published. Many more papers are currently being prepared. So far, more than 110 species have been recorded in the Kaieteur area.
The discoveries were made possible through three grants funded by the Belgian Directorate General of Development Cooperation (DGDC) through the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) totalling about 42,000 Euros.
Over the next three years this scientific research exercise will extend into the whole of the Pakaraima mountain range. This will be achieved by leading more expeditions in remote places like Mount Maringma at the Guyana/Brazil border. The expeditions will use standard methods to monitor biological diversity.
The primary goals of these expeditions are to amass scientifically accurate information that will contribute to park development planning, and to the listing of the Kaieteur National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The expeditions also seek to support the promotion of ecotourism within the Park.
Ecotourism, in partnership with research, has the potential to significantly affect forest conservation in ecologically fragile regions. At the same time eco – tourists can become better informed as to how to preserve the quality of sites through the minimization of ecological impact and avoidance of irreversible damage to the natural resources.
The team proposes to produce awareness posters highlighting several basic rules that can avert the destruction of the fragile habitats in the Park. These posters should be released before Cricket World Cup, 2007 and are expected to realize an increase in visitors to the Kaieteur area.
The team is also mindful that policymakers become aware of the presence of species that could become extinct on account of development projects in the area. The Kaieteurosaurus hindsi, for example, is known to inhabit only a small area of the Tukeit trail, which has been earmarked for a proposed road to Kaieteur. The team is urging policymakers to seek scientific advice before making decisions on development projects that could have an irreversibly negative impact on the environment. The project will also enhance local capacity by providing otherwise limited opportunities for “hands on” training in field herpetology.
Some of the specimens collected will make a significant contribution to the herpetological collections at the Centre. The research exercise will also have a direct and important impact on Guyana’s tourism potential by creating an exhibition of amphibians and reptiles of the Park at the Guyana National Museum.
Two volumes on the amphibians and reptiles at the Park are currently being compiled. These books, which will provide information on amphibians and reptiles in the Park, including identification keys, photographs and data on natural history will be of interest both to Guyanese researchers and to eco – tourists and local conservation agencies.
The team especially hopes that its efforts will contribute to Park planning aimed at ensuring the survival of essential habitat characteristics that guarantee the continued presence of the species and their homes.
The research project also seeks to serve as a long – term initiative aimed at monitoring the amphibians and reptiles of the area as they face environmental challenges associated with eco – tourism development, mining and logging activities and global climate change.
1Department of Vertebrates, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, 29 rue Vautier, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: Philippe.Kok@naturalsciences.be
2Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, Depart-ment of Biology, University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus, E-mail: email@example.com