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Pristine forests as far as the eye can see

Article - August 27, 2012
New species of flora and fauna are still being discovered in Suriname
Suriname’s forests are among the richest and most untouched on the planet, and both the government and international organizations are set on having them remain so. They contain 3.165 billion metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass, as well as more than 1,100 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Center. Of these, 1.3% are endemic, i.e. they exist in no other place in the world, and 1.8% are threatened. The country is also home to at least 5,000 species of vascular plants. It is little wonder, therefore, that the country takes protecting its incredible biodiversity seriously.

Just under 15 million hectares of Suriname is forested. Of this, almost 95% (14 million hectares) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Its vegetation has been grouped into three main categories: hydrophytic forest (1.3 million ha), xerophytic forest (150,000 ha) and mesophytic forest (13.4 million ha), the latter being regarded as the most commercially valuable.

Earlier this year, an expedition to Suriname led by the charity Conservation International revealed 46 species that are thought to be previously unknown. Investigations are under way to confirm which of the creatures are in fact newly discovered species. Among the weird and wonderful finds include the ‘cowboy frog’, a brightly colored cricket that has been named the ‘crayola katydid’, and an armored catfish, which sports spine-covered bony plates all over its body to protect it from the giant piranhas that inhabit the same waters.

The project’s director, Dr. Trond Larsen, told BBC Nature why the particular part of Suriname the group visited was so special: “As you fly into the area, you travel for hundreds of miles and often [don’t] see a single road – just continuous forest. It’s one of the last places in the world where you can find that wilderness. We take these wildernesses for granted, but unless we focus on them now, they won’t be like that for long.”

During the three-week expedition, the team of scientists helped local people to designate a specific ‘no-take zone’ of the forest, with the ultimate goal of making it a small nature reserve, which could protect native wildlife, enable indigenous people to hunt sustainably and encourage ecotourism.

As part of its mission to conserve natural communities and ecological biodiversity, in 1998 the WWF identified 238 ecoregions widely known as the Global 200. They are a collection of the most outstanding and diverse habitats or areas in the world, where the planet’s biological wealth is most distinctive and rich. They are also where any biological loss would be most severely felt. Among the nations highlighted for extra conservational effort was the Guianan Moist Forests Ecoregion.
Part of the WWF global network, WWF Guianas is a conservation initiative launched in 1998 that seeks to “conserve nature and ecological processes by ensuring that the use of renewable resources is sustainable both now and in the longer term”. It covers the three Guianas (Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana)  and focuses on the Guianan Ecoregion complex – the Guianan Moist Forests Ecoregion, Guianan Freshwater Ecoregion and Guianan-Amazon Mangrove Ecoregion.

Through partnerships with local communities, private and public sector institutions, international NGOs and funding organizations, WWF Guianas hopes to preserve the region’s natural wonders and ensure the sustainable use of its natural resources.