A First for Guyana

Guyana’s first Community Owned Conservation Area (C.O.C.A.) is now the largest protected area in the country and is managed exclusively by an indigenous group. This will effectively bring more than one million acres of rainforest under sustainable management while ensuring the continued development of the Wai Wai people and their traditional way of life. The Wai Wai of Konashen District in the south of Guyana received title to the land in 2004 and partnered with Conservation International and the government of Guyana to have the entire area established as a protected area.

Creating a Conservation Economy

This new protected area is part of the High Biodiversity Wilderness Area of Amazonia and a key part of the Guiana Shield corridor. It is home to several endangered species and the over 200 persons who live in the village of Masakenari. The Wai Wai need this area for the survival of their people and the traditional way of life and are worried about new and encroaching threats from mining, logging and the wildlife trade. Incursions along their border with neighboring Brazil have already led to illegal mining. The Wai Wais have already stopped trading in wildlife, a practice previously done solely for economic survival and are now looking to conservation and the benefits of keeping their biodiversity to provide for family and economic development. The protection of this area ensures continuity to the traditional lifestyle and with long term support they plan to continue living on the land.

Protecting Key Habitat

The conservation of this key part of the Guiana shield corridor also allows for the preservation of the home of several important species such as the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) and the Jaguar (Panthera onca), the Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola Rupicola), the Blue Poison Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) and the Emerald Boa (Corallus caninus). The Community Owned Conservation Area now expands the area of the Guiana shield that has been placed under formal protection and expands the corridor by linking directly into the Para State Protected Area in Brazil.

Community-based Management

The Wai Wai community is now moving forward with conservation and development planning for the community conserved area. With the technical advice of Conservation International, the community leadership group has completed their long term Management Plan, and is in the process of completing their first two-year Operating Plan. Six community members recently completed training as qualified rangers and para-biologists, and a community-led training program has revitalized their traditional craft enterprise. Under the new operating plan, a management training program will be implemented for the community leadership and opportunities are being developed to create partnerships for research and eco-tourism development.

Planning for Long-term Sustainability

The government of Guyana is pursuing legislation to establish a national system of protected areas and a financing mechanism that will provide long-term support to the Wai Wai’s Community Owned Conservation Area. Continuing technical advice and support from Conservation International for training and infrastructure, and an environmental education program and conservation club for the students and youth of the community will provide for the growth in skill development and capacity that will enable the community to manage their lands and resources for current and future generations.