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Saving the Giants – Our Vision and Mission

Guyana’s rain forests, savannas and sinuous rivers are home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna and host to species that are found nowhere else in the world.  The culture and warmness of Guyana’s native people is unparalleled, just as the natural resources they depend on.  “Save the Giants” is a community-driven initiative, that aims to train and empower the people of Guyana to manage their ecosystems and protect the charismatic “giants” that bring these havens to life.

Hello! My name is Christina Ward – I am an artist and conservationist dedicated to preserving the wildlife of Guyana and enriching the lives of the country’s native people. In collaboration with colleagues from Surama Eco-Village, Creature Conserve, a registered 501c3 and my personal business: Colors for Conservation, we are launching the “Save the Giants” conservation initiative. “Save the Giants” will expand upon the giant otter surveys currently being conducted by local Makushi surveyors, Kenneth Butler (Surama) and Oswin Ambrose (Massara), along the Rupununi River in Region 9 of the Guyanese interior.  Please visit our “Notes From the Field” pages for more information on the current field surveys.

The focal species for the “Save the Giants” project will be the iconic giant otter; an endangered species whose wild population numbers are merely speculation, due to insufficient data collection. Save the Giants will employ and train indigenous villagers to conduct proper giant otter population surveys and collect fecal samples, which will be used for genetic testing.  We will be partnering with the Molecular Ecology Department of Durham University in England to complete the genetic analysis.

As giants are the focal species for data collection, they will also serve as an umbrella species for their wild “giant” counterparts.  In addition to collecting data on the otters, the surveyors will collect supplemental data on the surrounding environment and patrol for signs of illegal activity, pertaining to illegal extraction, fishing and poaching.  Save the Giants is partnering with Panthera Guyana to develop ways for surveyors to maximize their data collection time on the river and in the field.

As the project evolves and the trained otter surveyors become familiarized with giant otter behavior, opportunities to establish sustainable “otter watch” eco-tours will be abundant.  Currently, in country, there are no tour companies who offer this type of encounter. Giant otters, with their playful and communal nature are always a delight to view in the wild, but their aversion to humans must be respected and proper guidelines must be in place when conducting an otter watch tour.  Standards for appropriate giant otter eco-tourism ventures have been published by Jessica Groenendjik; communications director with San Diego Zoo Global, Peru. Jessica’s extensive field research on giant otters allowed for the creation of a standardized data collection methodology, which will be used during our otter surveys.

OUR VISION: That giant otters are protected and their populations stable throughout their range in South America by 2025.

OUR MISSION: To bring artists, scientists, members of local communities, and all who love giant otters together to celebrate, study, and protect them.

 

Bringing Artists and Scientists Together – It works!

893812_10151941788492224_81361068_o.jpgCreature Conserve and Save the Giants is honored to welcome Becky Sheel to the team! Just finishing her masters work at Georgia Tech in digital media with a focus on animal conservation, Becky has already made huge contributions in the field.  Working with the IUCN and other science affiliated organizations, Becky reconstructed the Red Panda Network’s website, including an interactive map of red panda population trends.  Be sure to check out her work in the links below.  Citizen Science is a growing hot topic in the conservation world and Becky created a site for Audubon, which allows people from all over the world to input data.  In addition, Becky researchers the efficacy of drone usage in conservation efforts.  She recognizes the importance of visually appealing, interactive graphics in not only explaining your project’s work, but as important tools used to explain to donors, gov’t, and the public what your work is accomplishing in terms of conservation.

Moving forward, Becky will be analyzing the field data collected on giant otters and constructing a similar range-wide population map, similar to the one created for the Red Panda Network.

The Save the Giants team is so grateful to have such innovative and compassionate thinkers onboard with our mission.  Welcome Becky!

YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT HER WORK…IT IS AMAZING!

http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~rscheel3/portfolio/red-panda.html

http://www.ctaudubon.org/citizen-science/#sthash.yZ1ny4iY.g1sVIug3.dpbs

Training Workshop and Planning for the Next Survey

My last visit to the Rupununi was much different than prior visits.  Typically, I visit the interior during the Dry Season, when the river is low enough to walk through.  Not this time!  With the Rainy Season in full throttle, the rivers had risen an amazing 30-40 feet in all directions; swelling over the banks and flooding into the savannas.  Much like the disappearing river banks that line the Rupununi, the giant otters were also nowhere to be found, as they typically follow the fish into the flooded savannas and seek refuge on dry patches of land until the river recedes.

Although the absence of the otters on the rivers saddened me, the reassurance of the much needed rains returning to the region balanced everything out.  It is comforting to know that when the rains stop this year, the rivers will return to their curvy channels with an abundance of fish, along with happy, healthy otters.

The trip was not a waste by any means, even with the lack of otter observation.  With each visit to the interior, I meet new and wonderful people who are eager to become involved in the project.  Yupakari Village hosted my stay during this trip and I cannot say enough great things about the accommodations and hospitality provided. Yupakari is the home base of the Caiman House; a facility supporting years of caiman research and giant river turtle rehabilitation programs.  In addition to their current research projects, Yupakari has extended an offer to support the Save the Giants campaign!  Currently, plans are in place to offer a designated otter research masters or PHD student position in the village…exciting!  The student would work with local villagers to conduct otter survey work and promote a greater awareness of the otters throughout the region.  Stay tuned for details on this exciting development.

Kenneth is currently working on the organization of a one week training workshop, which will teach villagers throughout the interior the standardized methodology for giant otter surveys.  After the training workshop, we will have the ability to extend the otter survey into multiple locations, allowing for expanded data collection and a broader understanding on the distribution and health of the otter population in Guyana.  Villages who wish to participate in the survey will be compensated for their hard work and contributions to the project.

In January, Save the Giants will conduct the annual, 3 week otter survey out of Yupakari Village.  With the additional assistance of experienced Yupakari residents, we will have the opportunity to put more eyes on the river and cover more “ground” than we have in prior surveys.  The Save the Giants team is certain that 2018 is going to be an otterly fantastic year!

 

Save the Giants teams up to expand the survey!

Save the Giants Field Manager, Kenneth Butler met with the ranger staff at the Iwokrama River Lodge to discuss future plans to expand the giant otter survey.  In 2009, Iwokrama conducted a population survey of giant otters on the Essequibo River and the team is excited to partner up with Save the Giants to continue giant otter conservation work in the area!  Plans are in place to coordinate with Iwokrama on an otter survey in the late fall.  This partnership will allow us to cover more ground and gain a more comprehensive picture of the health and abundance of otters in this area. Stay tuned for more details!

Surveying During the Rainy Season

I will be heading back to Guyana next month to conduct a super quick otter survey during the rainy season. Typically, conducting an otter survey during the rainy season is a futile task. As water levels rise, otter groups move from their holts on the river into areas that are safeguarded from flooding. When the rains come and trigger the otters’ movement, tracking them is virtually impossible due to their wide spread dispersal into the corresponding pond systems along the river. Sort of like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The past few years have been a little different in terms of rainy vs. dry seasons. During a “normal” rainy season, the river will rise up to 15 ft, swell over the banks and flood into the savannas. The flooded savannas provide perfect spawning grounds for the river’s fish. After the rains, the receding water levels will transfer the abundant fish population of the savannas back into the river. Boom! A perfect system for restocking the rivers!

2017 will mark the 3rd year in a row with inadequate rain fall during the rainy season and the 3rd year that river levels have not risen enough to spill into the savanna. This is an extremely troubling situation for fish populations and all of the creatures who depend on the fish as a dietary staple, including otters, caiman and humans.

Due to the lack of flooding this year, I am hoping to collect data on how otters respond to these abnormal seasonal shifts. I am curious to see if the otters are staying put in the rivers, or if they are still dispersing into the ponds.

Time to get out the rain sticks and do the dance!!

NOTES FROM THE FIELD FISHING ILLUSTRATION

World Otter Day at Moody Gardens

This is what conservation looks like! Dedicated and passionated people from around the globe, coming together to raise awareness for our endangered species.  Moody Gardens is one of “Save the Giants” fiscal sponsors, here’s the excerpt from their Facebook page about World Otter Day! The team at “Save the Giants” cannot thank them enough!

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Happy World Otter Day!

Today and Tomorrow at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, World Otter Day will be celebrated (a wee bit late) in front of their Giant Otter exhibit. They have a table set up selling stainless steel re-usable straws as well as shirts, stickers and otter paintings made by their giant otters all to raise money for Save the Giants, a new conservation and research program run by Christina Ward.
There are going to be talks and behind the scenes tours.

Moody Gardens has just approved a grant proposal to fund 2 months of Giant Otter surveys in Guyana with Creature Conserve so any extra fundraising will be in addition to that.

What an amazing team! Will anyone be able to visit them and help the otters?

#worldotterday #otter #otters #giantotters #savethegiants #creatureconserve

 

 

Guyana’s Conflicting Interests

My travels to Guyana are always emotionally charged, usually full of equally inspiring and heartbreaking experiences.

In the interior, surrounded by the beauty and warmth of both the forests and the native people, your mind effortlessly slips into a state of rest. You can walk barefoot on the villages’ dirt roads, past the grazing cows and humble, yet colorful houses and feel yourself connect with the earth. An earth that is still healthy and thriving. An earth free from the stressors of a first world country; no interstates, no power lines, no high rises, no rush hour. An earth with a heartbeat that pulses and pumps life into the millions of organisms working to maintain an equilibrium. Homeostasis. In the interior, people believe the intrinsic value of their animal counterparts far exceeds any dollar amount placed on them.

On the periphery of the interiors’ havens, along the coastlines and borders with neighboring countries, the effects of human lust and greed are evident. Guerrilla miners strip the earth with chemicals that create irreversible damage to the forests and rivers. Logging operations, hydrocarbon exploration and illegal extraction of plants and animals are acts of degradation growing in intensity and frequency. In the cities, people view animals as disposable sources of income and nothing more than a piece of property.

The juxtaposition of these harshly conflicting ideologies has created a sense of urgency within the Guyanese government and the indigenous communities to secure the remaining areas of untouched land and impose tighter regulations on the wildlife trade. 80% of Guyana’s forests remain in pristine condition and with the dedication and support of people who aren’t afraid to join together to fight the good fight, it’s possible
to keep it this way.

Project “Save the Giants” is gaining momentum in the fight for Guyana’s wildlife. Please follow our blog and join us in the journey:

https://savethegiants.blog/donate/

“Save the Giants” meets the President

What a phenomenal evening this was!  Thank you to the IUCN SSC Otter Specialist Group for highlighting this story.

An excerpt from the IUCN Otter Specialist Group’s Facebook post:

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The President of Guyana, David A. Granger, left, with Christina Ward and Kenneth Butler during the fifth anniversary celebrations of the Protected Areas Commission in #Guyana.

Christina and Kenneth are both working hard in their new mission to save native Guyana fauna, with particular focus on their populations of Giant Otters that are in need of immediate conservative action.

Here is Christina‘s report of the day:

“My conservation cup overfloweth! After spending a most spectacular day with Ali Striggow, sight seeing and checking in on a giant otter at the Guyana Zoo, I went to a ceremony to celebrate the Protected Areas Commission’s 5th year anniversary!

What an amazing feeling it was to sit amongst Guyana’s best and brightest in the field of conservation, community development and sustainable land management. And you can imagine my enthusiasm when I discovered that the key speaker for the evening was THE PRESIDENT OF GUYANA!!!!!!!

President David A. Granger – what an inspiring man. His dedication to the land and the people of Guyana shines through in his words. He is dedicated to transforming Guyana into a true green state. I felt a twinge of shame when he noted that he was among the first to sign the Paris Agreement. Sigh.

The best part of the night was when we got the chance to meet the president. In the brief moment we had to exchange words, I managed to blurt out as many details about “Save the Giants” as I possibly could. He took my card, shook our hands and welcomed us onboard! Heres to giant leaps forward in the efforts to SAVE THE GIANTS!!”

Best of luck, Save the Giants!

Read more about the event here:http://www.motp.gov.gy/index.php/2015-07-20-18-49-38/2015-07-20-18-50-14/2141-president-granger-calls-for-citizens-stewardship-over-protected-areas-pac-launches-five-year-strategic-plan

#otter #otters #giantotters #savethegiants #guyana#southamerica