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Red Siskin Research and Conservation

June, 2002 - Present

In the early 2000s, a group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institute, accompanied by local guides from the tour operator Rupununi Trails, made a discovery that was set to shock the global scientific community and drastically change the future of conservation in the Rupununi.

The group identified a Red Siskin (Spinus cucullatus), a seed-finch that until then, was only known to be found hundreds of miles away in northern Venezuela. At that time, the Red Siskin was classified as “Critically Endangered” due to its history of being intensely trapped for the purpose of selling which resulted in a severe population decline to the point where it was almost impossible to find the Red Siskin in the wild.

The unexpected discovery of the Red Siskin catalyzed a group of nature-loving friends who had noticed a decline in the abundance of wildlife in the Rupununi to form the South Rupununi Conservation Society otherwise known as SRCS in June 2002. The aim of SRCS was to and remains to this today to “through adaptation, sustain a healthy environment for the people, plants and animals of the Rupununi”.

The first task for the newly formed SRCS was to understand more about the Red Siskin and to ensure that their population was safe from the threats that they had faced in Venezuela. To do this, SRCS recruited members from Indigenous communities across the South Rupununi who shared the founding group members’ passion for wildlife, the environment and adventure. These new recruits were then trained in skills such as binocular use, GPS use, bird identification and bird handling to become SRCS “rangers”.

In the years that followed, SRCS spearheaded efforts to collect data that was new to science including the range of the Red Siskin in Guyana, their population size and their genetic code. At the same time, SRCS also advocated for the Red Siskin to be added to the list of protected species in Guyana which it subsequently was. Further, SRCS were also officially appointed as the guardians of the Red Siskin by the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency in 2003.

However, despite the progress made on understanding the Red Siskin, SRCS rangers discovered that the Guyanese population of the Red Siskin was under threat from trapping, trading and habitat destruction. If these threats were left unabated, it was possible that the Guyanese population of Red Siskins could have severely declined. This prompted SRCS to further engage the 6 Indigenous communities on whose titled and proposed extensions where the Red Siskin’s range occurred – Sand Creek, Sawariwau, Katoonarib, Rupunau, Shulinab and Potarinau - to work together to find a solution. 

This has resulted in the creation of the “Red Siskin Community Based Conservation Management” zone which is one of the first of its kind in Guyana. The zone was designed, implemented and monitored by 5 of the Indigenous communities and has very basic rules related to trapping and habitat destruction that each community follows. The aim of the zone is for a reduction in the number of threats and a hopeful increase in their population.

Since the discovery of the Red Siskin, the number of tourists travelling to the South Rupununi has significantly increased with eager bird watchers travelling from all across the world to see the magnificent, little red bird. This has benefited the local communities who are now able to find opportunities as guides, caterers, accommodation providers, transportation providers and more. 

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