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Cameras show Essequibo concession home to globally endangered species
The giant armadillo once widespread in tropical forests is now scarce because of over-hunting and settlement expansion. It eats ants, termites and the occasional snake. (Photo courtesy of Conservation International Guyana)

Camera-trapping photos have shown that globally endangered species of animals live in a 313 square-mile conservation concession in the Upper Essequibo.

Conservation International Guyana (CIG) manages the site, which is a little larger than Barbados. CIG is a branch of Conservation International (CI) an international non-profit organisation.

Among the photos taken by the infrared sensitive cameras mounted on tree trunks are those of a giant armadillo, giant anteater, and a jaguar all endangered species.

Manager of the concession, Eustace Alexander, in an interview with Stabroek News on Wednesday, said there were "giant" animals (largest in their species). "So you have a giant cat, a giant lizard, a giant turtle." He said from his personal observation the giant river otter and giant river turtle, two more endangered species, lived in the concession too. There are other pictures, which are still to be developed.

The pictures indicated, Alexander said, that the eco-system of the site, the relationship between living things and their environment, was healthy, and they also highlighted the bio-diversity and conservation value of the site.

An inquisitive jaguar in the Upper Essequibo conservation concession was partially caught on this CIG camera. Jaguars have become endangered because of over hunting for their skin and also by farmers because of their threat to livestock. (Photo courtesy o

He noted that one of the goals of conservation concessions was to save a site from developmental and commercial pressures. It was no coincidence, Alexander said, that CIG's concession was located in Guyana's forestry zone.

Apart from never being able to replace a lost species, nothing existed in isolation, Alexander said, and there were both economic and eco-system negative spin-offs from losing a species forever.

In searching for an example of a spin-off, Alexander used the greenheart tree, which he noted was almost limited to Guyana except for some in Suriname. But were it to be logged without any conservation plan, Guyana would eventually be deprived of any economic benefit it would otherwise continue to get from the tree.

The greenheart's extensive use for the building of wharves and `palling off' work would also be gone.

The greenheart seed was also food for the agouti, Alexander said, while the agouti in turn was food for larger prey like the jaguar. Other pressures like commercial hunting and fishing greatly affected species and eco-system balance. "If, to use an example, you have an area with plenty jaguars and you go hunting, not for jaguars, but for labbas [a rodent] then the jaguar may have to move soon."

The value of paying attention to the environment has been highlighted on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) website thus: "the dollar value for services provided by eco-systems throughout the world is estimated at US$33 trillion per year."

In contrast, the value of human produced goods and services, WWF said, was about US$18 trillion per year.

More than forty crops produced in the USA valued at US$30B per year, the site said, depended on insect pollination. Bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other creatures pollinated 75% of the world's staple crops and 90% of all flowering plants and the sale of prescription drugs with ingredients extracted from plants amounted to US$15B per year.

Carbon credits

While the goal of the conservation concession was to save the site from developmental and commercial pressures, the concept was to show that government and by extension a country's people, could benefit from it. CIG's Upper Essequibo concession was acquired under a Timber Sales Agreement and the company pays government all the required fees as if the concession were being logged though it is not, Alexander said.

"This shows a way where a country could market its resources without destroying them," CIG's Communication Manager, Ajay Baksh had told Stabroek News when the newspaper visited the site in December last year. "We hope this could generate interest for others to invest in conservation."

Carbon offsets was another way conservation concessions could be promoted. "Let's say a company like Ford may want to invest in intact land to off-set any carbon pollution it contributes into the atmosphere," Baksh said.

According to the BBC Science and Nature web site, about half of the earth's forests are now gone.

Because the area will not be logged except as traditionally done by Amerindians, "(to build) a canoe or so," which pressure, Alexander said, was negligible, this meant that the area contributed to the capture of greenhouse gases, responsible for global warming with potentially devastating natural consequences.

It also makes Guyana eligible for carbon credits under the Kyoto agreement, Alexander said.

Under this agreement, industrialised nations are to reward countries, particularly developing countries, for preserving their forests.

Conservation-based enterprises

Other benefits from having the concession in the Upper Essequibo include preservation of its watershed, tourism, carbon sequestration and scientific values, and conservation of the area for traditional Amerindian use. Amerindians depend on the natural environment for their overall livelihood, Alexander noted. "They don't have supermarkets."

Because it's in the Upper Essequibo it means it's important for the water flowing down to communities to be kept pristine.

The nearest Amerindian community to the concession, Apoteri, is 50 miles away. The furthest, Crash Water is 100 miles from it while Rewa is 70 miles away.

Under CIG's Social Impact Assessment for having the concession a Voluntary Community Investment Fund (VCIF) of US$10,000 per year is made available to these communities.

It helps enhance existing enterprises in the communities, Alexander said, and promote any new ones suggested by the residents. These projects are known as Conservation Based Enterprises (CBE).

Rewa seems to have had the most economic benefit from the CBEs so far. According to reports he received, Alexander said, the community pulled in a whopping $1M just recently while supporting an expedition group.

The community opted for the establishment of three eco lodges as its enterprise. These are benabs to house tourists or expedition groups.

In the case of Apoteri the community was a national breeding station for the black belly sheep, which was popular along with the balata business in the 60s, Alexander said. However, with the collapse of the balata business the rearing and breeding of sheep also went downhill.

While Alexander could not say offhand how many head of sheep there were now in Apoteri, he said when he did the baseline study in 2003 there were 66. He said the community has received requests for sheep from other communities to start their own stock. "However, I don't know if they could afford to lose stock now."

The CBE in Crash Water is soon to be inaugurated, Alexander said. That community has requested a sewing project. There were already persons in the area who could sew but they needed the capacity like machines and a building.

The North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) to which 16 Amerindian communities are affiliated is administering the fund. Executive Director, Rodney Davis, told Stabroek News in December last year that the help was something the communities always wanted.

He noted that with projects like eco tourism, balata craft, the rearing of bees for honey production, sustainable and aquarium fishing, among others, the communities aspired to become self-sufficient. "We don't want to always be looking forward to the donors," he said.

The ultimate goal of CIG's conservation concession is for it to be incorporated as a National Protected Area within a National Protected Areas System, Alexander said.

He noted that while there was an absence of national protected areas legislation in Guyana, Parliament had passed independent Acts for the Kaieteur National Park and the Iwokrama Forest. Government has also established a Protected Areas Secretariat and has earmarked three priority sites in addition to Kaieteur and Iwokrama.

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