Survey documents vast number of new and surviving flora and fauna in South Rupununi

– WWF Guyana

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office in Guyana in collaboration with Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) has launched the first step in a series of reports focusing on Guyana’s incredibly rich biodiversity.

The report, titled “Biodiversity Assessment Team (BAT) Survey of the South Rupununi Savannah, Guyana,” represents the most recent broad-based documentation of floral and faunal diversity in Guyana’s southern Rupununi region and is based on work undertaken in the Kusad Mountain and Parabara areas.

The team would have also assessed water quality of the area’s wetlands, creeks and lakes, and natural resource use by local indigenous Wai-Wai and Wapishan communities at Potarinau, Sawariwau, Karaudanawa, Parabara and Shulinab.

According to a statement, many joined WWF Guyana at a high-profile symposium at the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, where the results of the report, which highlighted the key importance of the South Rupununi, were presented.

It said the report highlighted some of most “striking characteristics” of the South Rupununi savannah region, with special focus on its diversity of habitats as reflected in the high species richness and ecological diversity of the flora and fauna.

“The South Rupununi is a stronghold for many charismatic and threatened species such as the giant river otter, harpy eagle, giant anteater, jaguar and Brazilian tapir. The Arapaima, a freshwater giant of the Rupununi, may be distinct from other species in the Amazon and thus likely endemic to Guyana. More than 28 species, 12 species of fish; 1 bat, 15 aquatic beetles and between 10-25 % of ant species were new to science. Many additional species were recorded for the first time in Guyana and the South Rupununi,” the statement said.

“More than 50 per cent of birds known to occur in Guyana (487 species), including the critically endangered red siskin and other enigmatic species, inhabit the South Rupununi,” it added.

Meanwhile, Wes Sechrest, GWC Chief Scientist and CEO in brief remarks, said he considered the findings of the report vital since it allows for the implantation of effective strategies to conserve the biodiversity existing in the area.

“Our best chance at efficiently conserving our wild world starts with understanding where plant and animal species live. The South Rupununi expedition has given us the first clear snapshot of life in this otherwise unexplored region. With this vital information, we can now implement effective strategies to conserve the biodiversity in this unique place,” he was quoted as saying.

This diversity, he added, flows from the largely unfragmented nature of the landscape, where natural processes such as fire and flood go unhindered to mould the landscape into a variety of forms, thus creating varying local conditions, mixed patches of different habitats, each harbouring unique fauna.

“Covered in forests and spanning a range of elevations, isolated mountains, such as Kusad, harbour many unique species such as the Orinoco sword-nosed bat (Lonchorhina orinocensis), a vulnerable species of bat that was recorded in Guyana for the first time during this survey,” the statement noted.

Apart from being a biodiversity hub, the South Rupununi is said to also be useful for natural processes as the indigenous communities there have depended on the resources of the savannah and surrounding areas for centuries, and continue to do so today, even as they move towards cash-based economies.

“At least 59 species of plants and 72 species of animals were identified by communities as important for food, construction, medicine and income generation. This diversity is an indication of just how critical the area remains as a source for life and livelihoods for more than 18 communities. Special habitats such as ‘bush-islands’, often referred to as a ‘store house’ for resources, support subsistence agriculture and enhance food security,” the statement added.

The release quoted Aiesha Williams, Country Manager of WWF Guianas – Guyana Office as saying, “With such tremendous importance for nature and livelihoods, it is thus extremely important that economic development for the area and its inhabitants is based on the principle of using natural resources in a well-planned and sustainable way. In fact, maintaining the large-scale integrity of the landscape, rather than viewing its component parts in isolation, is essential for its effective conservation. Such approaches are directly in line with Guyana’s vision of a green economy and can serve to further Guyana’s sustainable development.

“The need for a holistic, well-planned approach to effectively manage the resources of the Rupununi to ensure long-term maintenance of natural services and flow of benefits, should be prioritized as threats from overharvesting of wildlife and gold mining are already evident in some parts of the South Rupununi. Together with the anticipated expansion of commercial agriculture in the wider Rupununi region, these activities represent major challenges and threats to the continued resilience of biodiversity, habitats and local livelihoods in the southern Rupununi.”

The event featured speeches by scientists, representatives of WWF and local institutions, including Denise Fraser, Commissioner (ag) of the Protected Areas Commission.

The BAT survey was done in close partnership with the University of Guyana, Department of Biology and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, South Central People’s Development Association (SCPDA), Kanuku Mountains Community Representative Group (KMCRG), Environmental Protection Agency and the communities of Potarinau, Sawariwau, Karaudanawa, Parabara and Shulinab.

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