CONSERVATION: Iwokrama – a sanctuary to be proud of – By Dave Martins

By Dave Martins – Stabroek News – September 13, 2020

It may seem a little over the top to say “sanctuary”, but in fact it’s not…that is precisely what Iwokrama is, embedded in the very centre of Guyana, like a navel, but of course a huge one of many miles.  The actual name is “Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development” and it is an entity to make us all proud for the sanctuary it truly is for our environment, and proud also for the efficient, professional way the Centre goes about its resolve of preservation and of continuance.

It shows up in many ways and for me, a fine example is the series of three booklets, or Guides to Iwokrama, as they are labelled, each of them professionally designed and printed in a four-colour display that is a joy to peruse.  There are three booklets (there may well be more in the works) and they are labelled GUIDES, with each booklet focusing on a particular subject…   

Guide to the Birds of Iwokrama, Guide to the Plants of Iwokrama, and Guide to the Mammals of Iwokrama, and whoever designed them is to be congratulated. The booklets are pocket-size, perhaps 5 inches by 4 inches, with an array of very impressive photographs showing the variety of forest in our landscape in great detail, accompanied by a very detailed text, created by Dr. Raquel Thomas who is the Director of Resource Management and Training at the Centre and even if one is not galvanized by the environment, the booklets are a small but professional treasure reflecting a huge and valuable place in Guyana.  The information is varied and covers many subjects in professional detail so that the Guide to Plants tells us that the Centre is home to more than 1250 of the 8000 species of flora found thus far in Guyana.  We learn of the Evergreen or Wallaba Forest, as well as the Mora, and the Greenheart Mixed Forest.  There is also the Marsh or Palm-rich Forest, found in the Rupununi, as well as the Dakama Forest, found on well drained white-sand areas.

The Guide to Mammals covers the inevitable Jaguar and Puma but also the lesser known Kinkajou which is mostly nocturnal and feeds on fruits, insects, mice and bats. Dr. Thomas also introduces readers to the Coati, related to the raccoon, but with a long tail, often held straight up like a wand. The mammals booklet shows us the Squirrel Monkey, with its inquisitive face, and the red Howler Monkey that moves in troops and lives in trees. Travellers to the hinterland will know this tribe by its chorus of grunts, roars and howls which can be heard echoing in the forest for long distances, and also the Black Spider Monkey, often seen in groups, moving noisily through the trees, and sometimes stopping to observe or even threaten mankind. There are excellent photos of the carnivores, primates and even of the hoofed mammals found in the forest.

Bird life is covered, as well, although some of the species are completely new, even to a country boy like me- Guyana actually has more than 800 species of birds, so my ignorance is understandable, but I was particularly intrigued by the Black Nunbird, often found along river edges with its chortling call, and the brilliantly coloured Guianan Cock of the Rock found in tangled habitat and with males competing avidly for female attention. Photos of our macaws, parrots and parakeets are also there in the Bird Guide and we get to meet the tiny Blue Dacnis, foraging around the tops of trees, sometimes in pairs, along the edge of the forest.  Other gems are the Great Tinamou, often difficult to see, but heard early in the day or late with a distinctive whistle call, and the multi-coloured Green-Backed Trogon with a complex call pattern.

These Iwokrama booklets are truly treasures. The information is thorough and careful and is the work of several people expert in their field, such as Director Racquel Thomas, and they include Meshach Pierre, a Guyanese conservation biologist  who has a passion for photography and film-making, and Canadians Mark Engstrom, Ph.D. from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Burton Lim, Ph.D. also from the ROM, and Fiona Reid M.Sc., author and illustrator of many books on mammals. The Iwokrama booklet leaves some useful Viewing Tips which I summarise as “wake up early for the early morning increase in sound and movement”, and “take your time in a tropical forest, birds can be very hard to spot, and the sea of greenery, vines and bromeliads, can obscure your view.  Be patient. Walk slowly and be quiet.”

I close this outreach today by heartily endorsing this booklet aspect of the Iwokrama story.  I suspect they must be available for sale at the Centre, and I strongly urge you to consider them.  They are a joy to read, the photographs are often stunning, and the experience will leave us proud of Iwokrama as the reservoir and propellant it is for us all. It’s a great home-grown story….one we should all know.

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