What makes this small South American country a hotspot for some of the continent’s largest species?
Most travellers are familiar with Africa’s “Big 5” (elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhinoceros) but few are aware of the impressive keystone species that reside in the Amazon rainforest. One in ten known species in the world thrive here. This constitutes the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world. Guyana, a tiny South American country teeming with biodiversity, plays a huge role in the preservation of this natural wonder. The pristine rainforests and savannahs of Guyana are home to some of the planet’s largest and most iconic mega-fauna.
Known affectionately as the “Land of the Giants” by intrepid wildlife enthusiasts, Guyana boasts a whopping 15+ giant species of fauna and flora. Research shows that the pristine nature of the ecosystems these creatures inhabit, make for prime breeding habitat. Guyana’s giants are relatively undisturbed. It is because of this pristine, untapped nature of Guyana’s rainforests that these animals are able to thrive.
Protecting Guyana’s Giants
All over the world and particularly in countries with healthy wildlife populations an increasing number of international and regional NGOs, governmental agencies, and community organisations are becoming more proactive steps in addressing the illegal wildlife trade and managing wildlife in a more sustainable manner. In Guyana, these efforts are led by the Guyana Wildlife Conservation and Management Commission, which is charged with the protection, conservation, management and sustainable use of wildlife.
Guyana is on the path towards becoming a Green State. In the tourism sector, this involves embracing ecotourism and sustainable tourism, which meaningfully contributes to promoting the conservation values of protected areas and species, supports biodiversity preservation, and improves the well-being of local people. When communities benefit from wildlife, they have an economic incentive to protect it. This can be experienced in community-led and owned indigenous tourism enterprises country-wide.
Experiencing Guyana’s Giants Firsthand
Whether you’re local or planning a trip to Guyana, consider using one of our local licensed tour operators to help maximise the likelihood that you will spot some of the nations most iconic species.
The Jaguar (Panthera Onca)
One of the more popular “giants”, the Jaguar plays a vital role in its habitat by controlling other species populations and contributing to the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. The best places to spot these beautiful creatures are in Guyana’s Protected Areas and along remote rivers in the early mornings or late afternoons. While it’s not guaranteed, random sightings do occur along the road and riverways and excursions can be arranged to take travellers to the areas where the jaguars are most frequently seen. Unfortunately, this apex predator is currently listed on the IUCN Red List as an endangered species. The Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development has become an important hub for conservation, scientific research and ecotourism. This protected area, boasts an extraordinarily untouched biodiversity which is perfect for the sustained development and protection of this elusive beast.
The Arapaima (Arapaima Gigas)
In the oxbow lakes and ponds, of which there are many along the Rewa and Rupununi Rivers, there is a relatively healthy population of arapaima. Known as the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish, the arapaima is a top predator and just like its other giant counterpart, the Jaguar, it plays a critical role in keeping ecosystems in check. Protecting this species is also a critical role played by the villagers of Apoteri and Rewa. Travellers can make it a point to visit Guyana and experience places like Rewa Eco-Lodge to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime, catch-and-release fly fishing adventure for one of the world’s largest and rarest freshwater game fish. As a protected species, this freshwater giant has to be constantly monitored. Rewa has partnered with Indifly Foundation, an ecotourism organization that protects fisheries and provide sustainable livelihoods for indigenous people, and Dr. Lesley deSouza to study and monitor the population, especially their movement patterns which is critical to their protection. This has since helped to restore the arapaima population to well over 4,000.
The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea)
The leatherback turtle is the largest living sea turtle. It is a marvel to observe it in its natural habitat. It is listed by IUCN as a threatened species. The Guyana Marine Conservation Society (GMCS) at Shell Beach is responsible for the protection of these beautiful creatures. Their conservation efforts have since seen the reduction in the locals’ dependency on harvesting the turtle meat and eggs. Further, the successful launch and continued operation of the North West Organic line of products can be attributed to GMCS’ efforts, providing the local community with an alternative livelihood option. From March well into August, Shell Beach becomes the nesting ground not only for Leatherbacks but also for Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles. This is the optimal time for travellers to visit a seemingly endless expanse of the unspoilt Atlantic coastline in hopes of spotting this prehistoric beauty.
Black Caiman (Melanosuchus Niger)
The Black Caiman are found in abundance in the waters of the Rewa and Rupununi Rivers. These species are monitored and protected by Caiman House/Rupununi Learners in the Yupukari/Rupununi Region. The ongoing studies, run entirely by locals, represent an attempt to gain a thorough understanding of the black caiman’s ecological role as well as its context within the local indigenous communities. This body of research is dedicated to a holistic approach to environmental conservation, wildlife research and preservation, economic development and cultural preservation that led to a sustainable income generating tourism enterprise for the locals. Guests are invited to join the research crew at night for caiman spotting and tagging.
Several other species of giants can be found in Guyana. The harpy eagle makes it nest in the silk cotton trees found in the Iwokrama forests, while the goliath bird eating spider inhabits the dense forest floors of the rainforest. These spiders, often the size of a puppy can consume prey as big as birds! Further, lesser known giants like the false vampire bat, cane toad and bullet ant, giant armadillo and the jabiru stork can be found in the pristine rainforests and savannahs of Guyana. All these creatures place emphasis on one thing – when people value and respect nature, it thrives.
Travel Better with Guyana: Guyana is working hard to conserve its vibrant wildlife and ecosystems and protect its culture and heritage. We realise that it is often difficult to understand how you can support these aims and make a difference when you travel. That’s why we’ve set out to help you by creating Visitor Guidelines For Sustainable Travel. All passionate globetrotters, curious culture seekers and bold adventurers are encouraged to do all they can to leave a positive impact on the people and places you visit in Guyana.