GIANTS OTTER CONSERVATION research in GUyana: Check out SAVE THE GIANTS BLOG
This project, initiated by Creature Conserve Founder Dr. Lucy Spelman and now led by Creature Conserve Board member, artists, and conservationist Christina Ward brings artists and scientists together to conserve giant otters in Guyana, a remote part of South America where they lack formal protection.
At present, the critical question is how many otters live in Guyana and how far do they range. While various teams have done rapid surveys, there have been few in depth studies, one at an ecolodge destination known as Karanambu in the North Rupununi. This study however was was conducted over a decade ago and before the advancement of high speed digital cameras, facial recognition software, and camera traps. This project 1) supports important scientific research into wild otter populations using the latest technology; 2) gives artists the opportunity to participate in field research, an experience that will inform their future work; and, 3) revolves around participation and support from local communities, including Amerindians, living in or near the natural habitat of this fascinating and increasingly rare animal.
Christina has launched a new blog full of information and updates from the field. Check it out here: savethegiants.blog.
Below is how it all got started!
otter surveys 2016-2017
In January 2016, Dr. Lucy Spelman and Christina Ward started what they hope will be a multi-year study of wild giant otters in Guyana. This research is designed to bring artists, scientists, wildlife, and ecotourism guides together to work collaboratively. Though the otters in this area are well known, there is little published data about their numbers or their behavior, including the impact of human activity on their habitat.
The base of operations for the first two years (2016-2017) was the Karanambu Lodge, located in the North Rupununi region of southwestern Guyana, South America. This is an extraordinary natural area home to hundreds of insect, fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal species, including the giant river otter. It is also a place Founder Dr. Lucy Spelman has been traveling to for twenty years; she has become an expert on this species, having learned about them from the legendary "otter lady" Diane McTurk who sadly passed away in 2016. (For more the Karanambu Trust and Lodge, see this link)
After establishing the methodology for the survey in 2016, Dr. Lucy and Christina returned in January 2017 to launch "Team Otter." The team consisted of local experts Gerry Pereira (field research, camera trapping), Oswin Ambrose (boat captain, wildlife guide), and Kenneth Butler (field research, ecotourism guide.) Ecologist Dr. Godfrey Bourne was the project advisor. Creature Conserve purchased $2000 worth of new camera traps and fuel for the survey with funds raised in 2016.
Also in January, Dr. Lucy and CC Board Member Dr. Nicole Merola returned to Guyana for their RISD wintersession course. During their two weeks at Karanambu, all eleven student artists and designers participated in the otter survey, led by Christina and Oswin.
Kenneth and Oswin then continued the otter survey research for one week each month (February, March, and April) - until the rainy season. To raise the necessary extra funds, Christina launched a GoFundMe campaign. Below is a slideshow featuring several of her creative and engaging "Notes from the Field" updates for the campaign, which raised $600 in its first 10 days!
Enjoy this video of giant otters grooming, filmed by Leon Moore.
Below are some of Dr. Lucy's photos from the 2016 giant otter census.