Kanashen is Guyana’s southernmost Amerindian/Indigenous village, located in the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo region of Guyana and shares an international border with Brazil. Kanashen hosts a population of about 300 residents of the Wai Wai indigenous people, who have lived for many years in the forest and open savannahs of this area. The Wai Wais over the years continued to practice their indigenous culture, paying strong attention to the management of the ecosystems and unique biodiversity, eventually leading to their landmark move to dedicate all their rainforest to the conservation of biodiversity.
Kanashen’s Ecosystem – comprises a diverse variety of flora and fauna, with an evergreen forest inclusive of wood species such as Manyokinaballi (Geissospermum spp.) and Kakaralli (Eschweilera) and fauna which includes some of Guyana’s giants such as the Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) and Jaguar (Panthera onca). More importantly, Kanashen houses the headwaters of one of Guyana’s main water sources, the Essequibo River, which originates from the Acarai Mountains. Additionally, the area holds the Wassarai, Yahore, Komoa, and Kaiawakua mountains and vast grasslands which provide a pristine environment for immense biodiversity.
Their journey dates back to 2004 when the Village of Kanashen was awarded – in what is considered globally as one of the truest recognition of traditional rights – absolute title to their ancestral lands. At approximately 3% (or 648, 000ha) of Guyana, this massive tropical forest remains isolated and relatively undisturbed in the deep south of Guyana. Being cognizant of external threats such as gold mining and the emerging patterns of culture loss especially language loss, the Wai Wai took the bold step in 2007 to designate their land a Community Owned Conservation Area (COCA) under the Amerindian Act 2006.
Becoming Guyana’s first Indigenous Owned Protected Area
In 2013 the Village submitted an application to the Protected Areas Commission requesting to be recognized as a National Protected Area under the NPAS. Over the years the PAC worked closely with the Village and other stakeholders to develop a management plan and later submitted a joint application to the Government of Guyana for approval. In August 2017, the Government of Guyana legally gazetted the area declaring it a National Protected Area as part of the NPAS.
How the KAPA is Managed
The power for decision making and management lies with the Kanashen Village Council, who employs a KAPA Management Team of Rangers to implement the technical work programme of the protected area and its daily operations. Presently, the area is managed as a Category VI: Protected Area with Sustainable Use of Natural Resources under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorisation of protected areas. The management of the area follows the strategies, goals, objectives and outputs that have been outlined in the KAPA management plan and is implemented by a team of Rangers and a Manager employed by the KAPA Village Council. This plan identifies two main themes under which work is to be done: biodiversity management and community development. The former advances protected areas management activities which includes biodiversity inventories, monitoring and patrols, data collection and capacity building. The activities are funded by the Protected Areas Trust Fund (PATF). The second theme focuses on community development in the areas of infrastructure, health, ecotourism, and the preservation of the Wai Wai culture. It is intended that Kanashen will eventually become a national and international model for community conservation.
As a new protected area, significant work is required to make it operational and function effectively. Therefore, in these early stages, technical support to establish crucial management structures is provided by the Protected Areas Commission (PAC), the body mandated to manage the NPAS. The PAC works with the KAPA Management Team to build their capacity to implement the KAPA five year management plan.
National Park, Thomas Lands,