The Wai Wai indigenous community of Masakenari live in the Konashen District, a remote rainforest area
in southern Guyana
that is part of the globally important Guyana Shield, named for the underlying 2-billion-year-old rock formation. Nestled within the Amazonia High Biodiversity Wilderness Area
, this region is home to multitudes of vibrant endemic flora and fauna such as Neotropical river otters ( Lontra longicaudis
), jaguars ( Panthera onca
), South American
river turtles ( Podocnemis expansa
), and the brilliantly plumaged Cock-of-the-Rock ( Rupicola rupicola
The landscape also holds deep cultural meaning for the Wai Wai. While the tropical forest remains largely intact, dangers are looming, including expanding threats from illegal wildlife hunting and poaching, logging, mining, and oil drilling.
A Bold Step to Conserve
To protect the forest and their culture from these threats, the Wai Wai took a bold step, approaching the Government of Guyana to request title to their land. After lengthy discussions, the Government of Guyana agreed, granting the Wai Wai title to about 2,400 square miles of their traditional land.
With this success in hand, the next step was to develop a successful community-led land management plan. Determined to conserve biodiversity while building strong families and communities, the Wai Wai used their natural heritage to encourage their families to remain intact on the community's land rather than having its youth leave to seek economic opportunity elsewhere.
"We recognize that we must use our lands in a sustainable manner or our culture will disappear and our children and grandchildren will suffer," said the paramount chief of the Wai Wai. "We also realize that it can develop our community through creating job opportunities for our young people so that they can remain in the community. We want our young generation to see and learn to take care of what we have."
Power in Numbers, Partners
To accomplish their goals, the Wai Wai sought an experienced partner, engaging CI to assist in their efforts. In 2004, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Wai Wai, CI, and the Government of Guyana creating the Wai Wai Community Owned Conservation Area. Under this agreement, the Wai Wai maintain clear ownership of the planning process, setting priorities for conserving and managing their lands, with CI providing technical training, scientific knowledge, and various administrative resources to assist the Wai Wai in meeting their goals.
CI's partnership with the Wai Wai involves:
- working together to jointly evaluate the impact of traditional land uses on biodiversity and the ecosystem;
- helping to increase the local, national, and global awareness of the importance of the Konashen District's biodiversity and the contribution of community conserved areas to conservation;
- assisting with identifying and developing income-generating projects;
- developing a management plan for their lands and long-term funding mechanisms; and
- working toward the inclusion of the Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area as part of a system of protected areas in Guyana.
Today, the Wai Wai Community Owned Conservation Area in Guyana serves as a model and learning opportunity for other indigenous communities interested in guiding their lands toward a more sustainable and prosperous future. The partnership can also serve as an example to national governments of the potential for community managed areas to successfully contribute to the mosaic of recognized protected areas.
VIDEO: Learn more about Guyana's Conservation Concession