Developing countries throughout the world especially those in the Caribbean and the West Indies are paying keener and keener attention to the creation of an eco-tourism and sustainable development base to satisfy a growing niche market that could pave the way for socio-economic growth and development for their respective population. (Click Map.)
The work that is being undertaken at the 370,000 hectares Iwokrama (International Center For Rain Forest Conservation and Development) project in Guyana’s hinterland could well become the prototype for the eco-tourism and sustainable development goal that so many nations are seeking.
The project on which the future generation of Guyanese and indeed other countries of the world will depend, has its mission clearly defined: “The mission of the Iwokrama International Center for Rain Forest Conservation and Development is to promote the conservation of the sustainable and equitable use of tropical rain forests in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general, by undertaking research, training and the development and dissemination of technologies.”
It was recognized by the Government of Guyana that eco-tourism is a potentially valuable and sustainable use of tropical forest ecosystems, and this recognition led to a World Bank/Commonwealth Secretariat grant for study on the potential for eco-tourism in the Iwokrama Forest.
The study concluded that eco-tourism is a viable and appropriate endeavor for the Iwokrama Center, which has several characteristics that give it a potential comparative advantage in the development of eco-tourism.
The Iwokrama Forest itself is a unique resource of natural and human communities, with extra-ordinary scientific and global conservation value, and a combination of attractive elements that have tremendous appeal to potential visitors interested in natural history, social anthropology and conservation.
Tropical rain forests are currently high on the list of popular destinations for nature and adventure travelers.
Work at the center is continuing against the background of a world demand for a substantive demonstration that the conservation and sustainable management of tropical forest can provide tangible and lasting benefits to the governments and communities that own these resources or depend on them for their very livelihoods.
In most parts of the world, forest development has not been sustainable, hence the emphasis on what is being done in Guyana at the Iwokrama Center. As part of the on-going projects at Iwokrama, the Wilderness Preserve (WP) was established in an area comprising approximately half of the Iwokrama Forest. The WP will give maximum protection to Iwokama’s rich biological diversity while allowing opportunities for some income generation from low-impact activities such as eco-tourism, scientific research and conservation sponsorship.
The management plan for this area will emphasize management issues such as boundary demarcation, environmental monitoring, patroling and provision and maintenance of an access network of creeks for canoeing, foot trails and primitive campsites among others.
The development of management plans for the other half of the forest, the Sustainable Utilization Area (SUA), is more complicated as the main purpose of this area is to use the multiple resources of the tropical forest so that they yield the greatest benefit to present generations while maintaining their potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.
The word Iwokrama is derived from the Amerindian word that means “place of refuge.” Among the striking features of the Iwokarama forest is the abundance of several large and often conspicuous animals that are close to extinction in other parts of the world.
Guyana, on the north eastern tip of South America, is home to an extraordinary wildlife that includes Giant Anteaters, Anacondas, Black Caiman, Arapaima, Giant River Turtles, Giant River Otters and Jaguars. Of all of these animals, the Jaguar is perhaps the most important as the largest predator in South America.
Guyana’s forests have healthy populations of jaguars and the nation may be home to one fifth of all of the jaguars remaining in the world today. The Makushi people of the North Rupununi recognize 18 different kinds of big cats in contrast to the six species recognized by scientists. Jaguars have been decimated over the years by hunters for their furs as well as by ranchers, but today the concern focuses on the destruction of the habitat.
Of the estimated 15,000 jaguars left in the wild, about one hundred are said to be found in the Iwokrama Forest.
The Arapaima, Arapaima gigas, also known as the Pirarucu or Paiche, is one of the world’s largest fresh water fishes. adults can mature up to four and a half metres in length and weigh 200Km. Arapaima are found throughout the Amazon and associated river systems in the Guyanas. They are also the most popular form of food in the Amazon region and as a result, populations have been declining throughout South America over the years. However the Arapaima is a protected fish in Guyana.
The black caiman is the largest of the alligators and caimans in the world. Adult males can be longer than four meters. Black caimans are distributed throughout the Amazon in the Rupununi and Essequibo drainages of Guyana and the Kaw region of French Guiana.
Scientists working at the Iwokrama project are becoming increasingly concerned over the threat of pollution from gold mining, particularly in the form of increased sediment and mercury loads in the system. In addition, the presence of gold miners can affect the behavior of giant otters; when breeding giant otters are disturbed, mothers may stop producing milk and the cubs can starve to death.
These are among some of the urgent issues facing the movers and shakers at Iwokrama, who are giving careful planning, development, and management of tourism enterprises.
Iwokrama needs to develop a more substantial level of internal management and oversight expertise if its tourism initiatives are to be successful.
It is taking advantage of the Majestic Kaietuer Falls, one of the wonders of the world, which remains one of the greatest attractions in the 83,000 square mile country.
As the only English speaking country in South America, its population includes a variety of cultures with West Africans, Native Amerindians, Dutch, British, Indian, Chinese and Portuguese, with the motto: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”.
Under British rule for 152 years, the country is bordered by Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela, and the river Amazon to the south, with a population of just over 775,000 people concentrated along a narrow coastal plain, beyond which the land rushes towards the uplands where gold, diamonds and bauxite are mined.
There are hundreds of rivers, lakes and creeks with four huge rivers…the Demerara, the Berbice, the Corentyne and the biggest of them all…the mighty Essequibo, 21 miles across at its mouth and over 370 miles long. The Essequibo traverses the country from south to north. Its head waters begin in Brazil and flow north, covering some 370 miles before emptying into the Atlantic.
The Kaieteur Falls is situated in the heart of Guyana on the Potaro River, a tributary of the Essequibo. The water flows over a sandstone conglomerate tableland into a deep gorge, a drop of 741 feet, and then down another 81 feet of rapids and falls.
While Kaieteur Falls continues to be one of the principal attractions in Guyana, there is a wide range of other activities and endeavors one can choose from.
The waterways offer many sights along the way…17th and 18th century Dutch ruins nestled in the shoreline, flora and fauna and glimpses into the culture and daily life of the Guyanese who live there.
As the tourism industry develops and the Iwokarama project expands, it is necessary that steps are taken to ensure that the indigenous people, the Amerindians, are provided with alternative jobs and food, and that tourism will not lead to environmental degradation, which is of growing concern for travelers the world over.
The nation and the population of Guyana owe it to their future generations as well as to the entire region, if not the world, that steps taken now would safeguard the environment and ensure sustainable development. Email the Iwokrama Field Station staff.
— Feature and photos by Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Caribbean Correspondent. Map courtesy of Iwokrama