Guyana: Ecology and Wildlife
Guyana has a wide variety of habitats, including: marine, mangrove, swamp, savannah, white sand forest, brown sand forest, cloud forest, moist lowlands, and dry evergreen scrub forests. Guyana is home to some of the world’s most pristine tropical rainforests, covering most of the interior of the country. With such a variety of ecosystems, Guyana has some of the highest biodiversity in the world.
Due to around 90% of the poulation of Guyana living on the narrow coastal strip, Guyana’s forested interior is left sparsely populated, except for Amerinidian villages. The country’s low population density results in little human disturbance to flora and fauna habitats, however the destruction of the rainforest due to the country’s weak economy, has taken its toll on many species including, giant river otters, ocelots and golden frogs.
Over 800 species of birds have been recorded in Guyana, with 104 species endemic to the Guiana Shield. Highlights include the Guianan Cock-of–the-rock, Roraima screech-owl, Guianan red cotinga, blood-coloured woodpecker, Guianan piculet, Guianan streaked antwren and Finsch’s euphonia. Guyana’s national bird is the hoatzin or canje pheasant, an unusual prehistoric looking, tropical bird that can be found in Guyana’s swamps and mangroves.
Areas that offer the best opportunity for birdwatching are the Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, Karanambu Ranch, Dadanawa Ranch, Kaieteur Falls, Wowetta and the capital city, Georgetown.
Over 225 mammal species have been documented in Guyana, including many of the world’s largest. Key species to be found within the country include the jaguar (largest cat in the Western Hemishphere), puma, ocelot, giant river otter, capybara (the world’s largest rodent), sloth, red howler monkey, golden-handed tamarin, and the false vampire bat (the largest bat in Central & South America).
Guyana’s coast is also an important nesting site for four of the eight species of endangered sea turtles: hawksbill, green, leatherback and olive ridley turtles. Another endangered turtle, the giant river turtle, can be found in Guyana’s interior. Guyana is also noted for several Caiman species; several highly poisonous snakes, including the bushmaster; the world’s largest freshwater fish, the arapaima; and the golden poison dart frog.
The tropical rainforests are also home to some 6,500 plant species, half of which are endemic to Guyana. Most notable, and Guyana’s national flower, is the largest of the giant water lilies, Victoria amazonica. The leaves of the lily can grow up to 3m in diameter, with stalks reaching lengths of 7-8 metres. Other plants important to Guyana include giant bromeliads, markoesa and many orchids.
Kaieteur National Park, containing the world famous Kaieteur Falls, occupies a prominent position in the centre of the Guyana Shield. Kaieteur Falls is located on the Potaro River, in the Pakaraima mountain region, and was discovered by explorer, Barrington Browne in 1870. The area was made a National Park in 1929, a ground-breaking step for conservation at the time. The original park covered 45 square miles, but has recently been expanded to cover 224 square miles.
Another important area for conservation is the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, situated in the centre of Guyana. The Centre, which was set up less than twenty years ago, manages approximately one million acres of pristine Iwokrama rainforest, and is the centre for a research project into the methods of conservation and sustainable rainforest management. The rich biodiversity of Iwokrama attracts many scientists, researchers and eco-tourists to the area.
Other ecological highlights of the country include: Shell Beach, Marshall Falls, Orinduik Falls and the vast savannahs of the Rupununi.