Save the Giants (Giant Otters)

$1,500 Awarded to Christina Ward of Save the Giants in 2018

Save the Giants: (2018 – $1,500)

Christina Ward
Save the Giants

Giant otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) are not only endangered, but they are also poorly studied throughout much of their range, including Guyana. Population estimates are limited and distribution-wide management plans have been implemented in only a few countries. In Guyana, where conservation planning is underway, the giant otter is recognized as an important umbrella species and there is great interest in protecting this species – along with many other rare “giants” (jaguar, anteater, river turtle) among conservation organizations working in the region. However, few Guyanese have ever seen a giant otter in the wild, and many of those who have, particularly people living in Amerindian (indigenous Guyanese native) communities, view this animal as a competitor for fish.

The goal of this project is to advance giant otter conservation in Guyana by involving as wide and diverse a group of people as possible in field research that generates the information needed to make management decisions. Save the Giants will accomplish this goal by bringing local communities and scientists together to participate in a series of training workshops, followed by river surveys for giant otters. The collected population data will be used to create an interactive, online database. Ultimately, this project will add to our collective knowledge of giant otters in Guyana while simultaneously generating awareness and support for their protection.

Training Workshops

Save the Giants will host two otter survey training workshops, during the months of November 2018 and January 2019. The workshops will bring together representatives from each of the local Amerindian river communities, including youth reps (approximately 20 representatives total), as well as scientist who are trained in giant otter survey methodology. Workshop attendees will learn standardized giant otter survey techniques, including how to make and record field observations, take, record and analyze GPS data, use a digital camera, and set camera traps. They will learn basic computer skills, including word processing and spreadsheet maintenance. Finally, the workshops will explore best practices for sustainable, low impact and engaging giant otter eco-tours which will provide lodges with new options for ecotourism and opportunities to stimulate village economies.

River Surveys

Save the Giants will employ Guyanese representatives with an interest in conservation and have attended the previous training workshops, to conduct giant otter surveys throughout Guyana. The surveys will include the use of camera traps to maximize data collection, fecal samples for genetic and parasitic analysis, collection of supplemental data on the surrounding environment and patrolling for signs of illegal activity pertaining to illegal extraction, fishing, and poaching. Our team will also work with Amerindian youth in the development of an engaging and educational field guide for guest use during tours, as well as ideas for expanding the citizen science project to involve more Guyanese in other parts of the country.

Interactive Online Database

Using the data collected during otter surveys, Save the Giants will work with conservation digital designers to create an online, interactive web database of information on giant otters in locations throughout the interior, which will be the first of its kind for Guyana. This database will allow Save the Giants to analyze population dynamics in correlation with ecosystem changes, such a changing water level, weather, and anthropogenic disturbances. This database will be used for longer-term studies on giant otter ecology, behavior, and demography. The database will also serve as an important tool for Amerindians communities working with Guyana’s Protected Areas Commission land initiative to develop site-specific land management plans that include giant otter habitat. The Protected Areas Commission land initiative is a 2017 legislative movement, which designated 2 million hectares of land (including Amerindian tribal lands) for conservation purposes. The population data collected during otter surveys will provide conservation groups, such as the Otter IUCN Specialist Group, with up to date census numbers and allow these groups to make projections on wild giant otter populations and apply the appropriate IUCN Redlist conservation status.