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Guyana Frog Travelogue, Part 2

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In my last post, I began the story of my trip up Guyana‘s Wokomung Massif to the

summit of Mt. Kopinang in search of new frog species. In particular, I was on the hunt

for frogs with funky odors that repel would-be predators. I literally had my eye on the

one above, a red and black Pristimantis that Bruce Means discovered and

described as a new species, prompting us to visit the Wokomung Massif together. In general, bright coloration and bold patterns indicate that a frog might be toxic (see this in National Geographic News), and on Wokomung, there were more colorful frogs to discover.

Guyana’s tepuis (known elsewhere as mesas, table-top mountains) are literally islands in the sky…

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… isolated from one another due to differing climates at different elevations. Many are nearly undisturbed by human activity, sheltering extraordinary biodiversity, the sort of ecological richness we found around the summit of Mt. Kopinang.

Here’s a shot Bruce took of me with a cute blue-bellied Hypsiboas tree frog at our campsite in Guyana.

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One of my favorite tepuis finds was this Oreophrynella tree toad…

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… complete with grasping digits. You can see more tree toad photographs on my website, frogchemistry.com!

This bright yellow Colesthetus frog…

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… was teeny-tiny, and is closely related to a species that can be seen at a popular Guyana tourist destination, namely Kaieteur Falls–a 40-minute plane ride from Mt. Kopinang.

On Mt. Kopinang, the view from the top of Canama Falls was my favorite.

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From this vantage, I could see the summits of many different tepuis of the Wokomung Massif. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the frog species might be on each plateau. Since the climate is hot

and dry below, but cold and wet on top, many of the animals that live at high elevations

are stuck there, unable to cross the hot, dry barrier below to reach adjacent tepuis.

This has led to the evolution of new species on many summits, as bloodlines have

been isolated for millions of years.

Our clear view was short-live. Soon clouds at the base of the plateau started creeping up toward me.

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The fog enshrouded our tepui summit, limiting visibility to a few feet.

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As this dense fog hit, my camera lens also fogged up! Not for nothing they call this a “cloud forest” habitat, and one must come prepared to keep things dry! (Sigh.)

Our mission complete, we descended the Wokomung Massif and flew back to Guyana’s capitol city, Georgetown. During our flight, we passed over mining operations that are devastating to the local environment and aquifers. We saw pools of cyanide…

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…a deadly chemical that binds up the hemoglobin in blood, suffocating animals unlucky enough to be exposed to it. We also saw severely polluted runoff associated with a gold mine.

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Mine drainage such as this contains mercury, another highly toxic chemical. I watched from the plane in tears as this stream led into the Esquibo River, polluting otherwise untouched, unlogged

habitat downstream.

Although many world leaders have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

from deforestation via so-called “REDD” initiatives, the effort will lack impact without action at the local level. Many people in Guyana do not want mining, they tell me, but several mines have been established by illegal operators, who sneak across Guyana’s borders without permits.

World leaders and local groups must work together to keep Guyana’s forests suitable for their many unique plants and animals. Otherwise, these extraordinary forests will continue to be degraded by both legal and illegal mining. I hope that some of Guyana’s REDD-initiative funds will support forest rangers or aerial monitoring programs to keep illegal mining out of Guyana altogether.

You can show your support to stop deforestation, as I have, by signing an online petition that will be presented to world leaders at the climate change summit in Copenhagen this December. (Tell ’em Valamander sent you!).

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If you’d like to explore Guyana more, I’ve posted additional photos from the expedition on my website. Next time on BlogWild, I’ll take you to another sanctuary of nature’s biodiversity, Ranomafana National Park in Madagasacar!

Photographs copyright Valerie C. Clark and D. Bruce Means

Comments

  1. Jimmy
    Va
    April 11, 2012, 11:18 am

    I have always liked NG stuff but I want to puke whenever the unscientific baloney about evolution is mentioned. I still marvel at God’s wonderful creation of plants and animals which we are constantly learning about.