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2013 and earlier

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

After an hour of boating on Guyana’s Rupununi River, I had written two barely discernable scribbles in my notebook, an attempt to capture a trip that I knew would soon be relegated to memory.

A large osprey skimmed the tops of towering palm trees, a wriggling fish in its talons. My eyes darted down to tangled mangroves and a brilliant agami heron. We rounded a bend, and smooth-billed annies were above us, gliding past two jabiru storks on a sandbank below. Meanwhile, the snake-like head of an anhinga poked through the clouds, reflecting off the inky black water.

Another bend and a blue heron narrowly evaded a black caiman. A black-collared hawk gazed towards a troop of brown capuchin monkeys.

All the while we were floating in such flawless scenery that I was having trouble absorbing it all.

My location; Karanambu Ranch, dates back to 1927 when Tiny McTurk, an immigrant to Guyana from Scotland, homesteaded the area. In 1983, Tiny’s daughter Diane opened the ranch as an eco-lodge to fund her work rehabilitating orphaned giant river otters. Diane’s work brought international attention and in 1997, the Karanambu trust was formed and a private protected area was established for the conservation of Karanambu’s unique habitats and endless flora and fauna.

Even with years of talk about Guyana - South America’s only English-speaking country - becoming the next big eco-tourism destination, visitor numbers remain surprisingly low. Once you get away from the coast, where 90 percent of the country’s 750,000 inhabitants live, it’s mostly you, unpopulated rainforest, and wide-open savannas. But Guyana isn’t a secret, it’s just overlooked.

Take Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development. Within its boundaries, 200 mammals, 500 birds, 420 fish, and 150 species of amphibians and reptiles live on, in, under, and around the 1,500 species of flora.

On my first morning there, the air was filled with the screeches of red and green macaws and the call of red-billed toucans, and images of Iwokrama’s elite bird species filled my head: harpy eagle, crimson topaz hummingbird, hoatzin, rufous-winged ground cuckoo, Guianan cock-of-the-rock, crimson fruitcrow.

Much of Guyana is unspoiled nature. It’s a rarity in today’s world, and history has shown that it won’t last forever.

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