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 everything.
One day, while birdwatching, Mark Robbins of the Smithsonian Institute 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.
Our aim from 2020, is to create a Community Based Conservation Management zone to provide long term protection for the species.
Our aspirations have always gone beyond siskins alone, and in 2018 we were able to start work with the Sustainable Wildlife Management - Programme Guyana (SWM).
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 beginning a Yellow Spotted TRiver Turtle research project. This species is so loved as a food source that it is now in decline in the Rupununi. We aim to reverse this by working closely with communities.
We have a young and vibrant membership of local people who are committed to conservation, research 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.