When I saw this photo yesterday it took my breath away. This is the first camera trap photo of a jaguar at Karanambu. Of course we know this gorgeous cat lives here–there is plenty of evidence, including tracks, cow attacks, and rare sightings. Diane even has a story about a jaguar on the dining room table from years ago. Diane’s bedroom is right next door. She could hear him, several nights in a row, eating a chicken a night, until they were all gone. Even so, to actually see one is something else! Wow.
The trap was set by Dr. Evi (EE-vee) Paemelaere, the Karanambu Trust’s first resident conservation biologist. I took this photo of Evi in mid-February as she worked away at her computer during her first official week at Karanambu. I had just arrived, too, though my visit would be brief: 9 days. Evi, on the other hand, will be at Karanambu for the next year. Initially, her work will focus on a survey of jaguar population density funded by Panthera.org under the guidance of its northern South America coordinator, Dr. Esteban Payan.
The exciting thing is that Evi’s work promises to reveal all kinds of important information about the wildlife of Karanambu. Even before Evi captured her first image of a jaguar, she set a few traps just as practice, to make sure the batteries, memory cards, and focus were all working properly. Her practice run captured both a male and female ocelot, and a savanna fox. (Evi is sending me these photos so I can post them.)
So the jaguar study will also serve as a starting point for the survey of the wildlife of Karanambu. We also hope Evi is the first of many talented scientists to call the Karanambu Trust House – shown in the next photo – their home base.
As I have written before, we are at a critical point in the future of Karanambu. In order to help the surrounding communities develop the region in a sustainable way, and ensure Karanambu’s 125 square miles continues to be managed sustainably, we must first establish baseline data about species diversity and health. Only then can we begin to properly monitor the impacts of human activity on the wetlands and savannahs. Our strategy is to focus on key indicator species, including giant otters, jaguars, giant anteaters, and arapaima, and possibly other species such as giant river turtles (if there are enough left to survey.) We cannot manage what we don’t understand. The next photo is a roadside hawk, taken near the gappo.
Studying the wildlife of Karanambu has always been part of Diane’s vision, but we (the Trustees of the Karanambu Trust) have not had the support system in place to make this a reality until very recently. The key has been the arrival of Andrea and Salvador DeCaires, who joined Karanambu last August as the new managers of the Karanambu Lodge. Salvador is also the project coordinator for the Karanambu Trust. The photo below shows Diane with Andrea and Salvador in the office at Karanambu.
With Andrea and Salvador on-the-ground at Karanambu, we were finally able to put the word out that we were looking for a conservation biologist. We feel fortunate that Evi found out about the position, and that she was willing and able to find her own funding (through Panthera) to get started. We are excited about the future as there is no doubt Evi will help craft a research plan for the future. As I will write in a future post, the Shedd Aquarium team will also soon begin a study of fish and macroinvertebrate health and diversity, as well as water quality. We also have two short-term Peace Corp volunteers starting at Karanambu this week.
But back to the jaguar, ocelots, and fox. All three were captured in the same place, just off the road from the airstrip to Karanambu in the strip of bushy woodland known as the “gappo.” This is a low area of bush that floods in the rainy season. It’s less than a mile from the Rupununi River, which is where the main Karanambu Lodge compound is located. In many ways, the gappo separates the open savannah out near the airstrip (shown in the photo above)–which is also where the Karanambu cattle range–from the small bit of savannah that surrounds the Lodge.
During the dry season, it takes 15 minutes to drive from the airstrip to the Lodge, through the gappo where it might be a little muddy, as shown in this photo.
During the wet season, the bush becomes a waterway, which is why Diane calls it the gappo and the only way to get from the airstrip to the Lodge is to take a boat through the flooded bush and through a series of ponds and out to the main river. Here is the gappo in wet season.
On my second day at Karanambu, we heard the news that someone saw a jaguar at the gappo. We investigated, of course, and found several tracks. The next photo of a jaguar track is certainly not the best example, but I was convinced as there are large oval toe pads and a smudge of a heel pad which is not made by any other creature I know of. The camera trap photo proves my suspicion.
The next track is an ocelot. (There were also fox tracks but I failed to snap a picture.)
The gappo near Karanambu is also part of what is called the “three mile bush” which runs south and west of the airstrip toward the village of Yupukari. Evi has set her 16 camera traps throughout the bush. She is out and about today collecting the memory cards from several more. It will be exciting to see what she finds.