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My trip to Guyana, to see and meet giant otters.
Feature video: Sappho, the resident giant otter cub, playing with a chew-toy (Google video, 47 seconds)
Karanambu Ranch (\"ka-ra'nam-bü\) is on the Rupununi River (\"rü-pü'nü-nE\), in the Rupununi region of Guyana, South America (next to Surinam). It's run by Dianne McTurk, her nephew Ed, and his wife Melanie, helped by Ashley and some of the locals. She takes in orphan Giant Otter cubs (Pteronura Brasiliensis) - people find them and/or take them as pets because they're cute, but don't want them when fish become harder to find during the rainy season and they have to choose between feeding their family or the pet, or when they get older and more aggressive in their play. She claims not to rehabilitate them, simply to give them somewhere to live and some structure to their days until they decide to move on. Most otters move on when they're two, when they'd normally leave their family groups.
Giant otters are one of several species of otter through the world, and are endangered - they're listed in appendix 1 of CITES. They grow to about 2 yards long (including their flattened tail) and 4-5 stones in weight (26-32kg). Their noses are not black-skinned like dogs' but are as velvety as the rest of them; their inter-toe webbing extends right to the end of their fingers; and their gape is prodigious. They're gregarious, forming family groups, and the one I met at Karanambu was friendly. The North American River Otter (Lontra Canadensis) and the Sea Otter (Enhydra Lutris) are not the same species and share no geography. The Sea Cat/Marine Otter (Lontra felina) and the Neotropical Otter (Lontra Longicaudis) are South American otters too, but rarely interact.
My rough journal entries.
Someone emailed me asking about contact details and costs. When I was looking into the holiday I emailed Melanie McTurk, and she advised me to book the Guyana portion of my trip through Wilderness Explorers, who live in Georgetown Guyana and arranged everything there. For costs: in 2004, I paid about £700 to Thomas Cook for flights to Guyana, about £1000 to Wilderness Explorers for 10 days' stay, flights, and hotel accommodation on the night in and night out, and a couple of hundred buying a camera and various other things.
Georgetown Cathedral. It's the largest wooden church in the Carribean, I think they said.
The High Court building
In the Ogle/Annai/Karanambu/Lethem aeroplane
Sugar cane farming. Note the flooded plot in the top right - this is laying fallow; the water plants help revitalise the soil See also the helpful 'STBD' written on the wing strut, in case someone thought it was 'PORT'.
Middle of nowhere with human development
Middle of nowhere, no human development
Annai Airstrip Sign says: 'Annai Airstrip // Annai, North Rupununi, Guyana // The Civil Aviation Department and the people of Annai welcome you to // Guyana's natural beauty at it's best - Rainforest, Mountains, Savannah.' The barrel says 'ANNAI AIRSTRIP // GARBAGE BIN' (in case anyone decided to steal it or thought it was a fuel dump, I suppose.)
Out of the plane, at Karanambu airstrip. Karanambu has an airstrip because the government had originally planned to move the Rupununi administration out there, until Dianne offered to show them which bits of the planned centre would avoid flooding.
Plane heads off. I'm here in deepest Rupununi for eight days!
The road to Karanambu ranch. Note the missing windscreen - a helpful advance for the lazy photographer, but really to reduce dust in the cab and improve ventilation.
Sappho trundling down to the river
[3.1M avi] Sappho walking alongside Ed, then a slight run
Back end of Sappho showing the run of her spine and the breadth of her tail
Front end of Sappho showing whiskers and ears and a forepaw
Wet pawprints up and down the stairs
'No-body knows the trouble I've seen...' I tickled her paw, she tried to hold my finger. Very soft. Notice the small claws on her fingers, the webbing all the way to the fingertips, the whiskers from muzzle and eyebrows, the throat-patch which has a distinctive shape for each animal, and the furry nose (no black skin).
Sappho decides whether to go out today
[97k wav] Windy, but a good 'Aaareeek' = 'Pay me attention/I want to go to the river'
Having a rest between the river and the house A classic sort of weasel pose.
Sappho 'helps' to fill the bucket. Rohan wants water in there; Sappho thinks it should be full of otter.
Notice the detail of the paw on the yellow toy
Sappho helping to keep the bucket dry again, by putting her head under the tap to spray the water elsewhere.
Rohan thwarts her scheme
Sappho and Rohan coming from the otter house
Sappho digging under the walkway She was apparently trying to make a holt; notice the webbing all the way to the toetips.
Giving up the digging for now Again, note the detail of the foot - the pads - and the endangered footwear.
Sappho drying herself in the dust of the path
Soggy juvenile giant otter running note the curve of spine and tail, and the flatness of the tail
Giant otter juvenile eating fish
Giant otter juvenile looking for the remainder of the fish she's just eaten
[2.6M avi] Sappho eating fish; nice paw work
[2.1M avi] Sappho running towards river, brief distraction
[180k wav] 'Weeee-o-o-o-o-h' = 'Pay me attention - and hurry up' [Dianne says 'and I love you']
[84k wav] Growling = 'I'm tired, let me get into the otter house'
Dianne carrying Sappho I like this picture.
Sappho and Dianne in the river
Sappho bites Dianne's finger (probably)
Sappho clambered onto this vegetarian's chest and proceeded to munch her way through a fish, inches from his nose But he still wasn't convinced about carnivory.
My hut from the outside
The roof isn't attached to the brickwork
The back room
Pretty sunset on the river
More pretty Rupununi river sunset
Nice river shot
A caiman. Big beastie. 6' or so.
I think this is a heron
A gecko which was staying with me It didn't offer to split the bill though. Geckos are stingy.
A frog which was staying with me (normally in my toilet) I was concerned I might flush it, but never quite managed to.
The giant anteater
More giant anteater, showing the area
Anteater goes off to complain to its agent
An anhinga - 'snake bird' - drying its wings Stupid clumsy bird that flollops into the river, to swim about mostly submerged, periscoping its head and neck out now and again. I think it looks like the archeopteryx.
Pile of wild bricks We spotted these early in the week, and they didn't seem to be roaming much. Wild bricks have a strong herding instinct, and congregate into such piles for warmth. They can survive for several weeks with no water, and eat sand.
[1.1M avi] Ants in single file between two rock-holes
A giant otter holt. Notice the pale coloured slide in front of the hole - this is trodden-down spraint. Smells fishy.
Kenneth in bottom left Kenneth has extraordinary eyesight, and was very helpful.
Group shot Left to right: Land Rover, Edward (behind Melanie), Melanie, Dianne, water tank, ?Sian, ?Ian, Ash(ley), Mel's mum, Mel's dad, wheelbarrow, chair, elbow of other guest
'Karanambu Calling' - Dianne on the radio
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|This page last changed Mon Nov 20 16:39:37 2006|