How one village turned an extinction story into a conservation success story
By Johann du Preez
It was 2019 when I first set foot in the jungle of Guyana. When I stepped off the plane and into the jungle it was like I had taken a step back in time; to a place where nature comes before the ideals of man.I can still recall the first time I heard the thundering noise of the howler monkeys or watching a pack of giant river otters play in the water.This place is over flowing with wildlife and scenic beauty.
A place with rich biodiversity, but most importantly a place that is teeming with fish. Since that first visit to the jungle, the Rewa Eco-lodge has been my home away from home. A place I visit as often as possible, and I hope to keep going back for a very long time to come.
Off course this raises the question; why keep going back? The answer simple; the sheer diversity and numbers of fish. That is what keeps me going back. With more than 17 species of fish that one can target on the fly and a multitude more on conventional gear the Rewa system is truly one of the greatest freshwater destinations on the planet. It is home to arowana, two species of payara, peacock bass, a variety of piranha species, the infamous red pacu, numerous species of catfish and the list goes on. However, the main attraction is a fish that is almost stranger than fiction.It is home to the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish, the arapaima.
The arapaima is one of Guyana’s most valuable treasures and reason enough to come pay this place a visit. This is an air breathing monster that is closer to a living dinosaur than a fish. They can grow to weigh 300 pounds and reach lengths of up to 100 inches. They have long, muscular bodies that end in a flat, broad tail. They are covered with elegantly textured scales that are marked with bright red blotches and barring down their flanks. Their elongated heads are intricately marked with a maze-like arrangement of grooves.Truly a sight to behold.
Apart from their size and beauty they also put on a spectacular aerial display when hooked. They make powerful runs and jump out the water with a wild thrashing motion. It is this fighting prowess that has given them the reputation of being a real river monster. They reside in the dark waters of the ponds and oxbow lakes that the river carved out over centuries.
These ponds are surrounded by giant mora trees and monkey palms that play host a variety of birds and animals. When you fish for them, it feels like you are being immersed into the heart of the jungle. Arapaima are a unique species; from the way they engulf flies to the spectacular jungle they call home. Their home on the Rewa River is a prime example of how wonderfully diverse and healthy an eco-system can be if it is well protected.
The main reason for this thriving environment is that the people of Rewa have taken ownershipof this fishery and its surroundings. They have dedicated their lives to the protection and preservation of the ecosystem. The Rewa Eco-lodge is the driving force behind a large-scale conservation effort.
Through eco-tourism the lodge has managed to replace commercial fishing and hunting with sport fishing and game viewing. Through their protective efforts the arapaima population has grown exponentially, and many other species have made a strong comeback too. The arapaima, a fish that was once hunted nearly to the brink of extinction is now the main attraction at one of South America’s premiere fishing lodges.
All the arapaima that we catch are tagged, measured and the carefully released to fight another day. As result of this research project, we know more about arapaima than we ever did before. Knowledge is power and now we have the power to protect this fishery for many years to come.
Let’s forget about all the other fish species that play such a big role in the success of the lodge. Peacock bass and arowana are two species of fish that deserve plenty of credit. They are feisty, good-looking fish that are always around to keep anglers entertained. Although they are abundant these fish also need to be protected for future generations.
That is why the Rewa Eco-lodge in partnership with Indifly have decided to create yet another conservancy. The plan is to stop to excessive killing of these fish in certain areas of the Rewa system and to start a tagging program so that we can track the survival and growth of these special fish. With the help of the Rewa community we hope to have this project up and running in the near future.
If you’d like to know more about this project or get involved, please reach out to us:
[email protected] or follow us on Instagram @rewa_eco_lodge.