Conservation and Sustainable Tourism In the Rupununi

Article & Photos by Alex Arjoon

Located on the northern coast of South America, Guyana is one of the most unique countries in the western hemisphere. Home to approximately 750,000 people, the majority of Guyana’s population reside on the low coastal plain bordering the Atlantic Ocean, leaving much of the country virtually untouched by industrial development.

The concentration of its inhabitants on the country’s most fertile lands has allowed a plethora of plant and animal species to thrive within its diverse and uncharted hinterland region. Region Nine in particular, also known as the Rupununi, is located at the bottom of Guyana bordering Brazil and has seized the opportunity to capitalize on the area’s abundance of nature and wildlife by pursuing sustainable livelihoods through Eco-tourism.
Community lead and owned tourism has allowed Guyana’s Indigeous Peoples to reap the economic benefits of their natural environment while preserving the pristine attributes that have supported them for generations.

Naturally, within the realm of eco-tourism there is tremendous value in the conservation of certain species. The act of protecting biodiversity is particularly important because not only does it allow tourists to experience wildlife endemic to the region but also promotes a culture of sustainable practice in the community that ensures a harmonious relationship between villagers and the animals that inhabit the area.

In fact, there are a number of villages in the Rupununi that center their tourism product around conservation efforts towards various biodiversity. Karasabai, located in the northern Rupununi and nestled in the middle of the Pakaraima Mountains is home to one of the most beautiful and vibrant birds in Guyana- the Sun Parakeet. Also referred to as the Sun Conure, these birds are mostly born and bred in captivity and as a result are endangered due to loss of habitat and trapping for the pet trade. Karasabai is the only village in Guyana and perhaps one of the few places in the region where you are almost guaranteed to see them in abundance in the wild. Referred to as Kezee in the Macushi language, Sun Parakeets shape the village’s tourism image. Karasabai has made it their mission to ensure that these birds are protected and allowed to thrive and uses them as a major tourist attraction for birders from all around the world.

South of Karasabai toward central Rupununi is the village of Yupukari. Yupukari has established itself as a prime eco-tourism destination that doubles as a scientific field station using its tourism earnings to sustain research capacity which provides jobs and opportunities within the village. After enjoying the amenities and cultural experience of the guest house during the day, tourists can go on a boat ride on the Rupununi River where they can witness the field team tag the giant black caiman. This doubles as a daring tourism experience while building the capacity and knowledge of the research team who record data pertaining to caiman health and population size. These recordings are important because the village is able to closely monitor the black caimans and aid in their protection.

In the deep south of the Rupununi there are also massive conservation efforts at work. The South Rupununi Conservation Society for the past two decades has been working with communities in the south and have made significant advances in protecting the endangered red siskin as well as monitoring wildlife populations in the open savannahs such as the Giant Anteater. This conservation group is made up of local community members who all share an interest in wildlife and in preserving the natural ecosystems that play a tremendous role in their culture and heritage.

Despite the many promising ongoing initiatives within the Rupununi, Guyana as a whole has a long way to go. There is immense opportunity in pushing conservation efforts all around Guyana by educating the younger demographic on the importance of our natural environment and how they can continue to preserve and nurture it as a part of our important culture and national identity.

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