Largely untouched and undeveloped, the Guianas – Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana (Guyane) – are home to some of the world’s most endangered animals and the last remaining tracts of pristine rainforest on the continent.
The Guiana Shield Region of northern South America covers 2.5 million square kilometers of mountains, pristine forests, wetlands and savanna – approximately 13 percent of the entire South American continent. It was formed during the Precambrian era and is one of the most ancient landscapes in the world. The terms Guiana and Guayana are two universally accepted variants of an Amerindian word interpreted to mean “land of plenty water.”
This region contains the world’s highest percentage of intact tropical rainforest, with some 80 to 90% still in pristine condition. An estimated 40% of the flowering plant species in the Guianas are found only here. Scientific explorations of the area are still discovering species new to science. Likewise, the freshwater systems of the Guianas, together with the Amazon River Basin, hold the greatest concentration of freshwater biodiversity in the world. The Guianas’ coasts are also exceptional in their conservation importance. The mangrove forests of the Guianas are among the least degraded in the world.
Millions of migratory birds from North America winter along the coasts here, while the beaches serve as nesting ground to four species of endangered marine turtles. The largest population of the Atlantic leatherback turtles in the world nests on the beaches of the Guianas.
However, since the Guianas are rich in natural resources, such as gold, diamond, and timber, large-scale threats to the forests and freshwaters of the region exist. For example, the rapid expansion of small-scale goldmining in the Guianas, with increasing use of mercury is of growing concern, especially as global prices for gold experience historical highs.
The Giants of Guyana
Guyana is home to some of the biggest, noisiest and weirdest animals in South America as well as enough accessible bird species to impress even the most seasoned birdwatchers. Research has identified more than 225 species of mammals, at least 880 species of reptiles and amphibians, more than 810 species of birds and 6,500 species of plants. Rather than attempt to index the plethora of species inhabiting Guyana in these pages, we highly recommend you obtain a copy of the Bradt Guide to Guyana which makes a reasonable attempt to summarize the vast array of species that call Guyana home. The 2008 BBC documentary Lost Land of the Jaguar if you can get a hold of it, is another excellent way to meet some of Guyana’s notable flora and fauna residents, many of which remain unknown to science.
Our website has a great introduction to the Giants of Guyana, too.
You can certainly look forward to meeting at least one or two of the ‘giants’ of Guyana, including the world’s largest otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), largest anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), largest bat (Vampyrum spectrum) largest pit viper (Lachesis muta, or ‘Bushmaster’), largest freshwater turtle (Podocnemis expansa) largest freshwater fish (Arapaima gigas), largest spider (Theraphosa blondi, commonly known as the bird-eating spider), largest bird of prey (Harpia harpyja, or Harpy Eagle) largest rodent (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeri) or the endangered black caiman (Melanosuchus niger). You’ll even view the world’s largest water lilly (Victoria amazonica) and possibly get to watch one of its blossoms make a rare twilight bloom. And don’t worry – your expert guides will ensure that your encounters with these giants are from a respectable and safe distance.
The elusive Jaguar is, of course, one of the most dramatic inhabitants of Guyana’s jungles and even a brief glimpse of the elegant cat is etched as a lifetime memory for those lucky enough to spot one. Indeed, a surprisingly large number of visitors to the interior are fortunate to catch a glimpse of this top predator, or one of the other cats roaming Guyana’s wilderness such as the Puma, Ocelot and Jaguarundi. We can’t guarantee you’ll spot one, but many people believe your chances of doing so are better in Guyana than anywhere else in Central or South America.
Other notables in Guyana include the Guianan Cock-of-the Rock; capuchin, spider and red howler monkey; Brazilian tapir; leaf-cutter and bullet ant; sloth; armadillo; and the tiny yellow poison dart frog that spend its entire life within the tank bromiliads around Kaietur. The list goes on and on.
Birdwatchers are encouraged to point their web browsers at www.guyanabirding.com for the country’s best index of resident bird species. Our website also has a great collection of tick-lists for birds, insects, amphibians, and more. Check it out!
Are you one of those Americans who grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? You might just enjoy this 50+ year old look at the Rupununi’s wildlife. Prepare for circa-1963 production value and environmental sensibility, too!