Exploring the Guayana Shield is an experience like no other. Perched on the northern reaches of the Amazonia wilderness area
, the 2.6-million-square-mile shield stretches across five countries and is home to the largest undisturbed tropical forest
on Earth. In Venezuela, where I work, huge flat-topped sandstone outcrops called tepuis soar as much as 4,400 feet above sea level.
Rivaling the region’s extraordinary environment are the remarkable qualities of its local people. In Venezuela’s Guayana Shield alone, there are 17 indigenous groups living mostly in complete harmony with the environment.
Supporting these groups is an important part of CI’s work. Their way of life proves that it is possible to protect biodiversity while maintaining healthy communities
. A notable example is the Yek’wana people in the Caura River watershed, the focus of my activities in the region.
Yek’wana lands cover roughly 75 percent of the 17,400-square-mile Caura River Basin. In 2000, CI’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) surveyed and documented the aquatic biodiversity in this pristine area, concluding that the presence of the Yek’wana people was the key factor in the basin’s preservation. In honor of their contribution to conservation, the RAP team named a species
of fish discovered during the survey after the Yek’wana.
CI is now working with the Yek’wana to promote sustainable economic activities
, helping ensure that the community can continue to provide a high quality of life for its people. Possibilities being explored are ecotourism
and the selling of Yek’wana handicrafts, including bags made from woven palm leaves and renowned for their beauty.
CI’s broader goals include linking the Caura River Basin to Venezuela’s Canaima National Park through a large conservation corridor at the western end of the Guayana Shield. In December 2003, CI completed a RAP survey in Venezuela’s Ventuari region, a first step in evaluating conservation priorities in the southwestern end of the corridor.