Kaieteur National Park (KNP), the oldest protected area in the Amazon region, was established in 1929 by Ordinance No. 41 of the KNP Act of 1929 “to provide for the control of the said park and for the preservation of the natural scenery, fauna and flora”. The Park was established to protect its important biodiversity and the Kaieteur Falls which is the most recognisable feature of Guyana and the most popular tourist destination in the country. At its establishment in 1929, the park covered an area of 116.6 km2. However, in 1973, the Act was modified reducing the size of the Park to a mere 19.4 km2 to allow mining in the area. On March 9, 1999, order (No. 4) again modified the Act, increasing the area of the park to its current and largest ever size of 626.8 km2 (62,700 ha) to permit more effective management and prevent activities that could be detrimental to the ecosystem.
In January 2009, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)–Guianas, signed an agreement with the National Parks Commission, (who was the management authority of the KNP at that time), to develop an integrated management plan for the KNP. The planning process was implemented by a team of contracted experts together with support from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks Commission (NPC), WWF-Guyana, the indigenous Patamona communities and Regional Democratic Council, Region 8. This process consisted of five phases, implemented over a period of three years. With the passage of the Protected Areas Act 2011, KNP was brought under the National Protected Areas System (NPAS) of Guyana and is currently managed by the Protected Areas Commission to safeguard Guyana’s natural heritage and patrimony.
KNP is the only protected area in the Pakaraima Highlands of Region 8, Guyana and an important centre of endemism in the Guiana Shield. KNP ranges in elevation from 75m at the base of the gorge to 1,066m on ridges adjacent to the Kaieteur Plateau. Like many other areas in Guyana, KNP has near contiguous forest cover which can be broadly categorised into forest and patches of savannah. These varying habitats give rise to a rich diversity of species, that include endangered birds and mammals such as the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola rupicola) Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Giant Armadillo (Priodontes maximus), Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), and Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus). It is also home to the endemic Golden Rocket Frog (Anomaloglossus beebei ) as well as 43% of vascular plant species endemic to the Guiana Shield. The occurrence of these endemics may be attributed to the existence of the Falls, which creates several important habitats such as lowland cloud forest and a relatively large isolated upper drainage basin. The mist cloud formed by the massive falls creates a narrow strip of habitat which mimics a cloud forest along the rim of the gorge and in the splash basin. The Cabbage-Head Bromeliad (Aechmea brassicoides) is an example of one of the endemic plants found near Kaieteur Falls exploiting these special habitats. In addition, the Falls have acted as a natural barrier for fish passage for millennia allowing the isolated upstream fish populations to evolve independently. Very little sampling has been conducted above the falls, the sampling which has occurred noted 28 species of which 4 are endemic to the upper Potaro and 6 specimens are likely new to science and have yet to be described. As expected, the isolation of the upper Potaro resulted in low fish diversity but very high endemism making the fish populations extremely vulnerable to pollution and elevated levels of turbidity.
With a height of 226m, an estimated maximum flow of 663m3s-1 and situated at the head of a 32km gorge, Kaieteur Falls is the most aesthetically significant feature of KNP. Its combination of height and volume is unusual and unique for a single drop waterfall. It is this blend of power, height, and relatively undisturbed setting that makes Kaieteur the most visited tourist destination in Guyana, with visitation now growing to over 8,000 visitors a year. The Falls are also ranked as one of the world’s top waterfalls.
The cultural significance of KNP cannot be over emphasized, it should be widely known, respected and celebrated. The Kaieteur Falls itself is an important spiritual area and symbol to the indigenous Patamona people. They rely on the resources provided by the forests, rivers, and savannahs for generations. The knowledge of traditional use is an integral part of the culture and identity of the people and serves to inform the development of sustainable resource and land use plans for the park and surrounding area. With regard to the “sacredness” of the falls, the PAC, upon the request of the Patamona Communities, has been striving to ensure that visitors and researchers use the Park, and more particularly the Falls, in a respectful and responsible manner.
Activities that are not compatible with the values of the Patamona people are not allowed, e.g disposal of human remains (ash) over the falls and extreme sporting activities.
Our Work in the KNP
KNP is the smallest hinterland protected area in Guyana accounting for approximately 0.3% of the country’s land area and approximately 5.4% of the NPAS. This protected area is defined and managed under IUCN category VI as a managed sustainable use protected area. The Protected Areas Act also secures and guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples to continue to use the resources in the park for traditional purposes such as farming, hunting, fishing and gathering.
The management of the area follows the strategies, goals, objectives and outputs that have been outlined in the KNP management plan and is implemented by the Protected Areas Commission in collaboration communities, Government agencies and other partners. The day-to-day activities are implemented by a Site Coordinator and a Ranger Team.