Expedition Kanuku Mountains reinforces need for protection of Guyana’s rainforests

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By Akeem Greene

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British explorer Lucy Shepherd recently undertook a daring East to West expedition of the expansive Kanuku Mountains, and while her experiences might seem fictional to many, the achievement made her and others embrace the need for the rainforests of Guyana to be further protected.

Shepherd completed a 253-mile (407km) trek across the dangerous mountains in 50 days, which is understood to be the first recorded expedition from King William Falls to Schomburg’s Peak in the mountains located in Region Nine (Upper Takutu – Upper Essequibo).

The 29-year-old started the challenge on September 24 with local explorers Aaron Bernadine, 52; Vivian Smith, 34; Michael McDonald, 25; Lionel James, 53, and was later joined by Maximus Griffith and Carlos Honorio when there were injuries.

At a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner to Guyana Jane Miller on Thursday, Shepherd said she came face-to-face with deadly snakes, swarms of wasps and had to climb a tree to escape a 500-strong herd of wild boar.

It was a herculean task which she immensely thanked and hailed the experienced natives for their guidance and overwhelming support.

The team had to forage for food with a bow and arrow (Photo: Michael McDonald)

With over ten years of experience in exploring the wilderness of nations, Shepherd admitted this was no easy undertaking but one of the biggest takeaways is bringing knowledge of what the deep Amazon jungle holds and the ultimate need to keep it protected.

The Operations Manager for the expedition, Anders Anderson who has been in Guyana for over ten years working in the tourism industry, noted it is was the most “dynamic and crazy” expedition he has been a part of.

Noting the numerous dangers, albeit the improved rescue tactics in Guyana, he too made a passionate plea for its further protection.

“We can confirm after this trip, these areas are like nothing else. These places are the heart and soul of Guyana and these places should be protected by all means, and Guyana, hopefully in the future, will protect even more of this glorious nature”, Angus expressed.

The Kanuku Mountains have been a Protected Area since 2011 and the conservation area measures 611,000 hectares (6,110 km2). It is second only to Kanashen – 625,000 hectares – which is Guyana’s newest and largest protected area, covering about 3% of the country’s land area.

‘UNTOUCHED AREA’

Vivian Smith, a guide from Rewa Village, indicated in one of the documented video pieces produced by Shepherd, “when I first heard this adventure coming, I said this would never happen because no one in Guyana ever went on an adventure so long, or from that point to a certain point. I said to myself it would not happen, but it came through and it was a bit challenging for us.”

From boats capsizing and having to build rafts from bamboo for steams filled with Piranhas, slashing to make a trail each day, and crossing neck-high streams infested with Caimans, another native revealed how he not only came close to the deadly Bushmaster snake but had marks on his body to show.

Michael McDonald, who is a Ranger for the Kanuku Mountain Protected Areas said their campsite was surrounded by thousands of poisonous Bushmasters and he came close to touching one had it not been him shinning his flashlight at the appropriate time.

He further reflected on squeezing inch-sized mosquito worms out from his back, and heckled, “nature really loves me.”

SIGNIFICANCE FOR WILDLIFE

Major General (Ret’d) Joseph Singh explained that the mountains are 1.7 billion years old and are part of the Guiana Shield which stretches from Colombia to the State of Arapa in Brazil.

The Guiana Shield stores roughly 18 per cent of the world’s tropical forest carbon and 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater.

Singh further highlighted that the Kanuku Mountains have 70 per cent of all mammals found in Guyana, 53 per cent of all birds found here, and 28 per cent of all plants found in Guyana, along with 89 species of bats – the second highest in the world.

Last year, Shepherd did a trek from Sand Creek to Nappi (width of the mountains) and according to the BBC, her next expedition is to explore the Arctic next year.

From left: Ranger Michael McDonald; Dr Nigel Langhorne; Lucy Shepherd; Director (ag) of the Guyana Tourism Authority, Kamrul Baksh; High Commissioner Jane Miller, and Major General (Ret’d) Joseph Singh at the High Commissioner’s residence on Thursday

“Many persons have gone into the Kanuku but on shorter versions; no one, as I know, has done the East Kanukus – King William Falls to Rupununi River – except a lot of Balata bleeders in the 1940-50s”, the retired Major General noted.

Meanwhile, British High Commissioner Miller reminded the gathering that the theme for International Day for Violence Against Women is “paint the world orange” and one of the key ways of addressing the issue is women empowerment, women in leadership, and women challenging gender norms, all of which Shepherd has “completely blown” the stenotypes.

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