Gold priced out by wildlife
Monday 1 March 2010
18ft anacondas, jaguars, tapirs and the world’s largest bird of prey are some of the species that have proven to be worth more than their weight in gold.
Gold dredging has been outlawed in an unspoilt region of Guyana following a local campaign by concerned Amerindian villagers. This is being backed by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The spotlight is being shone on this wildlife treasure trove by PhD students Rob Pickles and Niall McCann who travelled to the Rewa Head in Guyana to study giant otters and tapirs.
“During our brief survey we had encounters with wildlife that tropical biologists can spend years in the field waiting for. On a single day we had two tapirs paddle alongside our boat, we were swooped on by a crested eagle and then later charged by a group of giant otters. I think that about sums the place up. There is little human disturbance in the Rewa Head and as a result, wildlife flourishes in blissful naivety,” says Rob Pickles.
Rob and Niall carried out an extensive assessment of all wildlife in the area, recording 251 bird species and 33 large mammal species. They had close encounters with the largest species of snake, spider, eagle, armadillo and anteater, leading them to dub the area the ‘Land of the Giants’.
Following the success of banning gold dredging in the Rewa Head, Rob and Niall are working with ZSL conservationists to call for international support for the Guyanan government’s plan to turn its forests into the world’s largest carbon sink. The rich forests of Guyana present the perfect test case for implementing greenhouse gas reduction projects, such as REDD+ initiatives.
“The Rewa Head currently lies in a logging concession. Unless Guyana is given alternative financial incentives, its government will be forced to lease its land to oil drillers, miners and loggers. One of the world’s last Edens is on the brink of destruction,” says Niall McCann.
“In the wake of Copenhagen and the build up to the Convention on Biological Diversity, reducing biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions are high on the political agenda. Protecting areas such as the Rewa Head through sustainable management is a positive strategy for addressing these key issues,” says Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL.
He adds: “Global leaders need to recognise that real economic benefits are to be gained through the conservation, not destruction, of our world’s living things.”