Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Species of Fish, Frogs and Birds a Boon to the Eco-tourism Sector

The team also discovered the Eschatoceras a species reportedly new to science.
Starbroek News

Biodiversity wonders have unfolded in the Konashen District after Conservation International (CI) Guyana led a team of scientists on an expedition into the area's unexplored and unstudied areas.
"We found remarkable biodiversity in that area," scientist, Dr. Piotr Naskrecki, told a gathering at the Hotel Tower about the findings. "We see huge potential for eco-tourism if the Wai Wai community decided to go this way. People will really, really flock to this area," he told guests, including Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues and members of the diplomatic corps, while giving them a glimpse of the preliminary results from the Rapid Assessment Programme (RAP) of Konashen's biodiversity. A team of ten international and local scientists comprising two Guyanese, two Venezuelans, four Americans, a Colombian and six local para-biologists; including Naskrecki, Dr. Maya Trotz, Dr. Theodore Schultz, Jeffrey Sosa, Brian O'Shea and Dr. James Sanderson discovered several new species and recorded data about mammals and birds in the area they were undocumented.
The expedition, conducted from October 3 to 27 was in keeping with a tri-partite agreement between the Wai Wai community, the government and CI inked on November 1, 2004. With documentation of the districts' biodiversity the Wai Wais will be able to balance their economic needs with conserving the 625,000 hectares of titled land they own in the Southern Guyana. This is the largest amount of land owned by any indigenous group. Naskrecki, Director of Invertebrate, Diversity Initiative, and CABS-CI proclaimed Konashen one of the last remaining pristine forests. The RAP was carried out along the Essequibo, Kamoa, Sipu and Acarai rivers; the Acarai Mountains, creeks and the lowland forests of Masakenari and Akuthopono.
The scientists monitored insects (ants, beetles and grasshoppers), crustaceans (crabs, shrimp), reptiles, birds, amphibians and mammals. No sampling of mammals was conducted. Trotz investigated the quality of the water by conducting mercury and other tests of samples taken from Waynakako and Kanaperufor. Though the results for the mercury tests are still to be analysed the ph of the water was measured at 4.74 to 6.24, which indicates that it is lower than the drinking water standard and turbidity clarity was found to be higher than the drinking water. The water was also found to be free from human industrial pollution. On the other hand, the findings showed that the drinking water from Masakenari and Akuthopono should be monitored for contamination from waste products.

This new species of catfish was one of 100 types of fish recorded.

Sixty ant samples were also taken from the area. Ants are the soil producers and predators of the rainforest. The samples were taken from wood and leaf litter. Shultz, from the Smithsonian Institute Department of Entomology, said his focus was on conducting an ant survey across Guyana. Ants, he said, make up 15% to 20% of the living organisms in the forest. The results of the ant surveys conducted are still months away.
Schultz and Sosa's surveys of beetles found 100-200 species extracted from litter samples; 33 genera in the Acarai Mountains and 22 genera in the Kamoa River. The Mycetarates which was known only from the Brasil amazon, was recorded for the first time in Guyana. Approximately 70 species of dung beetles (waste removers and dead wood decomposers) were recorded and one, possibly new to science, was found in the Kamoa. No flightless endemic species were recorded.
About 70 species of Katydids (herbivores and predators for mammals, reptiles and birds) were also recorded, at least two are new species to science. Naskrecki, who carried out the Katydids survey said they are most sensitive to disturbance and their presence is testimony to the pristine forest. The Katydids were sampled at night using ultra violet and mercury vapour light. The scientists also found at least 30 species recorded as new to Guyana.
Naskrecki said fish is the most important group of freshwater animals. He said they recorded 100 species of fish and about 200 species are expected to be found in the areas being monitored. He said three of the species are new to science and 50 species have the potential for aquarium trade as the population could support such. The presence of three species of crabs and four species of shrimp indicated the good water quality and food source.
With regard to amphibians, Naskrecki said 21 species of frogs, toads and caecilians were recorded, but there are probably more than 70 species in the Acarai Mountains. Of the toads found, there is the possibility that one is new to science. Twenty-nine species of reptiles were recorded, and the Wai Wais said an additional ten could be found in the area. Two species of Caimans and one tortoise species were also recorded. The team also found an Emerald Boa. The snake feeds on birds and is not poisonous.
O'Shea said about 40% of the nation's bird population can be found at Konashen. 318 species of birds from 50 families were recorded. O'Shea said evidence was collected using surveys, including sound recordings, camera traps and exercises conducted along rivers. Twenty-five per cent of the birds are endemic to the Guiana Shield. The Flat bill, a bamboo specialist and a new species to Guyana, was also found. The Black Curassow, which is hunted by the Wai Wai, also had a healthy population. Naskrecki said the area is a bird watcher's paradise and Konashen could be an eco-tourism destination. Sanderson, with assistance from the Wai Wais conducted a survey of the large mammals in the area. Through interviews with the villagers, camera trappings, tracks and dung evidence Sanderson recovered 21 species in a population he said was healthy but the density low. The scientists said this finding was not unusual.
Sanderson said in 2002, CI signed an agreement to lease 80,000 hectares of rainforest in what is called the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concessions. Under the terms of the agreement, CI pays the government acreage fees and royalties, but instead of cutting trees the area is protected and kept in its pristine state. A partnership for funding is currently being developed between Save Your World, LLC (formerly Mate'Life), an organic bath and body products company based in Portland, Oregon, which is expected to donate a sum of money from the sale of their products.
Heather Wright, RAP manager of CABS-CI said the RAP was established in 1990 and the information gathered has been used to protect many threatened areas. She said RAPs conducted over the years have led to the discovery of over 1000 species of plants and animals. CI's Manager of Conservation Science, Eustace Alexander, who was also a member of the RAP team, said six persons from the Masakenari area were taught to collect data on the biodiversity and to replace film and monitor the camera traps set up in the area. Less than 200 people reside in the area.

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