in Guyana, the Amazon caught between the attraction of nuggets and the protection of biodiversity

By Pierre Sorgue

Posted today at 02:13

Looks like a gold digger discovering a nugget. Sébastien Sant scrutinizes the tangled vegetation of the equatorial forest and throws himself on a liana that an ignorant eye considers perfectly ordinary. But no. The botanist of the Amazonian park of Guyana crouched down, stroking the flower. «Aristolochia wankeana, breath the man with delicate gestures, described a few months ago as a new species specific to this part of the Amazon… ”

The large stakes resumed his exploration: here, an orchid still in bud, there a hibiscus perhaps of a new type, which he will assess on his return to Cayenne. It is a hammam heat at the beginning of March, the rain soaks the muddy ground, but the naturalist is happy to herbalize.

Eleven days that he wades through the heart of the inextricable forest in the company of his colleague Clément Lermyte, that he shares a bivouac of tarpaulins stretched over hammocks with nine other scientists, ornithologists and specialists in reptiles or amphibians.

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Below, the waters of the Grand Abounami cross the rapids which give the place its name of Gros Saut. Between two powerful downpours, we hear the hoarse cries of a howler monkey or the hissing of a sentinel bird. “We are lucky with the weather”, rejoices Timothy The Pope, shirtless and in flip-flops, while he strokes a young rainbow boa. With his bun and his hipster look, the 30-something is one of the four specialists who, at the end of the day, will go in the rain to track frogs and snakes by the glow of headlamps. At night, the red eyes of the caimans lie in wait on the other side. At dawn, the cicadas wake up with a strident noise of a grinder cutting metal.

Isolated site

In November 2020, ichthyologists came to identify the fish and a carcinologist the shrimps. Others had tried to spot tapirs, monkeys, peccaries or even jaguars to establish “kilometric indices of abundance”. At the end of March, a third squad looked into the ants and the mushrooms. All dropped off by helicopter from Papaïchton, the village two days by canoe and seven by walking, off any trail.

It is for its isolation that the site was chosen by the management of the national park, the second largest in the world. “It covers 40% of Guyana and we only know a part of it, explains Hélène Delvaux, scientific manager of the park. This sector, which had not benefited from any biodiversity inventory, is isolated enough to imagine it being preserved. “

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