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Macaws soar over the rain- forest canopy at Iwokrama


A


t the geographical heart of Guyana is a biodiversity hotspot that also serves as a lesson to the world in managing natural


resources. Bounded by the Essequibo River to the east and the Pakaraima Mountains to the west, the million-acre Iwokrama rainforest is home to over five hundred bird species, over four hundred and twenty species of fish, and two hundred species of mammal: jaguars, giant anteaters, tapirs, bats, and more. In 1996, the government of Guyana and the


Commonwealth established here a pioneering conservation and research project. The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development protects and manages this “green heart of Guyana,” with the mission to “test the proposition that conservation, environmental balance, and sustainable economic activity are mutually reinforcing.” Half the forest is set aside as a wildlife preserve and half for sustainable


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use: ecologically low-impact harvesting of forest products and eco-tourism, in partnership with local Amerindian communities. Iwokrama’s field station, a series of simple but


comfortable buildings in a large clearing beside the river, offers accommodation for tourists and working space for visiting scientists. It’s strategically located near the Kurupukari Falls, which for millennia have served as an Essequibo crossing point.


(Amerindian rock carvings here


are thought to be four thousand years old.) Expert guides lead hikes into the forest and boat trips down the Essequibo, and a popular half-day expedition visits Iwokrama’s canopy walkway, in the heart of the forest south of the field station. Viewing platforms and aerial bridges allow you to venture into the tree canopy, far above the ground, where the rainforest biodiversity is at its richest. You’ll never look at the forest the same way again.


GRAHAM WATKINS


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