Our society was born sometime in about 1998, as a group of friends working with pioneering ecotourism company Rupununi Trails sat around a campfire. Every night we would talk openly about the home that we loved, the Rupununi. We realised that the animals that had seemed so numerous in our youth were now on the decline; we knew that year after year the fires that spread through the savannah took away a little more of the forest;we knew that overfishing would gradually deplete the rivers of fish and we feared that mining, logging, large scale agriculture and changing land use by everyone in the Rupununi had the potential to destroy one of the most beautiful natural habitats in the world.
At that time we had no formal group, and no funding, but the accidental discovery of a small red bird on our doorstep was about to change all that.
One day, while birdwatching, Mark Robbins of the Smithsonian and Duane Defreitas from Dadanawa Ranch noticed a provocative red and black bird near the bush edge in the South Rupununi savannah. Mark was astonished when he recognised it as a Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus), a species which up until that very moment had been thought only to exist in tiny numbers in Venezuela.
Red Siskins had been trapped almost to extinction for sale as cage birds to Europe, and had disappeared from almost all of their former range in Venezuela, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago. What was this creature doing hundreds of miles from any known Red Siskin? What's more, how many more were there in the Rupununi? We turned our burgeoning conservation society's interest to the Red Siskin and became the guardians of that very special species.
Red Siskin Conservation
Red Siskins became the primary focus for our conservation activities. Our first grant was for a one year project to establish the range of Red Siskins. In 2006 - 2007 we were able to find several groups of Siskins living in similar bush edge habitats, we found active nests and we observed the Siskins feeding, breeding and socialising.
Since then, we have been monitoring and banding the Red Siskin. The purpose of doing so is to estimate population numbers, understand connectivity between habitats and to monitor the stability of the population.
We have also now begun to monitor the life cycle of the Red Siskin in order to fill in several scientific gaps. This includes observing diet, preferred habitat and nesting behaviour.
We have a young and vibrant membership of local people who are committed to conservation and environmental education. We have great hopes for a bright future where the Rupununi will be a haven for plants, animals and people living together in a sustainable way.
Our interests have always gone beyond siskins alone, and in 2018 we were able to start work with the Sustainable Wildlife Programme, Guyana. SWM supported our dreams to create a healthy environment for all the people, plants and animals of the Rupununi. We wanted to work together to protect our wildlife and environment while remembering the traditional knowledge of the generations of people who used the land before us.
To this end, and with SWM's support, we have branched out into a number of areas we are passionate about. Firstly, we have built an Environmental Education Curriculum which seeks to encourage a love and understanding of the natural world in all young people, and foster an appreciation of the responsibility each of us have to take care of it.
Next, we have started Giant Anteater research and conservation. We think Giant Anteaters are in the decline, and our long term project aims to estimate the current population, establish the threats against them, and begin community managed conservation of the species.
Finally, we are planning to begin work on Giant Armadillo conservation. This species is so loved as a food source that it is now rarely seen in the Rupununi. We aim to reverse the decline in Giant Armadillo numbers by working closely with communities.