Due to the mixture of fauna from the Amazon and Guiana Shield regions, the Rupununi Savannah displays a high degree of species diversity – with over 2,000 vertebrates and many highly endangered species.
For millennia the Rupununi Savannah has been the home to, and a source of livelihood for, indigenous Amerindian tribes such as the Makushi and Wapixana, and earlier indigenous peoples dating back almost 7,000 years. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the extensive grasslands attracted European settlers, who established cattle ranches throughout the area. Nowadays the cattle industry is in decline, as the savannah’s grass has proved too poor to support large herds over a long period.
As a result, ranchers are turning instead to ecotourism, welcoming visitors to former ranching properties such as Rock View, Karanambu and Dadanawa. Once protected by its sheer isolation, the Rupununi is attracting interest due to its potential for gold mining, petroleum extraction and large-scale agricultural development, all of which threaten the pristine natural habitats and spectacular wildlife that includes over 800 bird species, plus many mammals.
The Kanuku Mountains divide the region into two roughly equal areas – North and South Rupununi. North Rupununi is an extraordinary natural area with four ecosystems: wetland, savannah, river and forest, which accounts for the fact that the species count is much higher than expected, given its size. There are at least 600 species of fish, along with 600 species of bird, and over 200 species of mammal.
Karanambu lies roughly in the middle of this fascinating biological hotspot. Endangered species such as giant otter, black caiman, jaguar, giant anteater, and arapaima—all apex predators—are abundant here, in addition to armadillo, tapir and monkeys. The seasonally flooded savannah and forest attracts substantial fish migrations. The region is rich in history, too – Sir Walter Raleigh, and later Alexander von Humboldt and others, thought that Lake Amuku, not far from Karanambu, was the location of Lake Parime, or the fabled El Dorado! Among the prominent explorers and naturalists who have written about their experiences here are Robert and Richard Schomburgk, Charles Waterton, Evelyn Waugh, Gerald Durrell, and David Attenborough.
Biological data from the more remote southern Rupununi are still remarkably lacking. As pressure to develop the whole region increases, the population has undergone change, but still includes groups of Makushi and Wapixana Amerindians, along with Guyanese of Creole descent, Brazilians and Europeans. Communications have improved and the Rupununi can now be reached via daily scheduled flights from Georgetown, which afford magnificent aerial views of Guyana’s rainforest, mountain ranges and rivers.
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