Floods, Breakdowns and Bees: Notes from a Suriname Expedition

In 2010 a team of scientists led by CI conducted a Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey in southwestern Suriname, which led to the discovery of more than 40 species new to science. In March of this year, a similar expedition was carried out in the remote region of Grensgebergte in southeastern Suriname. Ecosystem Services Coordinator Krisna Gajapersad reflects on his experience.

Grensgebergte mountains in Suriname

Suriname's Grensgebergte mountains, the site of the latest Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey in the country. (© CI/Photo by Krisna Gajapersad)

Journeying into one of the world’s last untouched and remote areas of wilderness requires expert planning. For the latest RAP survey, we at CI-Suriname recently faced the daunting task of gathering the large quantities of oil, food and supplies needed for the expedition and setting up camps for the researchers.

During the preparation for the expedition we faced many challenges, including a sick game warden who had to be returned to the village, broken outboard engines, a faulty helicopter and a flooded base camp. We also had to drag boats for over two kilometers on land, and I got sick once after being attacked by bees. Despite these problems, we just had to keep going.

pulling boat on Suriname's Palumeu River

RAP team members pulling boats with supplies on the Palumeu River in Suriname. (© CI/Photo by Krisna Gajapersad)

We spent over a year preparing for the RAP from our offices in the capital Paramaribo. Two weeks before it began, we took a 10-day boat journey from the indigenous village of Palumeu, through multiple rapids. This was done to clear the way for the expedition and prepare the helipad and base camps for the 21 scientists and support staff who would be collecting information on vegetation, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and water quality.

The expedition also required a lot of logistical coordination. In total, there were 17 plane rides between Paramaribo and the interior, and over 32 hours of helicopter flights. It was such an adventure to be in an area where so few people have ever been. A few of the local helpers had previously traveled through the area, but for most of us it was new and unknown.

camera-trap photo of a puma in Suriname

A puma in Suriname, caught on film by a camera trap. (© CI/Photo by Krisna Gajapersad)

Besides helping to organize the RAP, I also focused on setting up some camera traps, which use infrared sensors to detect heat and take pictures of large mammals. I found most of the large mammals I expected to occur in this area — such as cats, deer and peccaries — with the help of the camera traps. We also recorded tracks from a jaguar (Panthera onca) and a tapir (Tapirus terrestris), which indicate that the pressure from hunting in this area is minimal.

While we don’t have all the results of the survey yet, the scientists did find a large number of species that were not only intact but abundant. Many of these could be completely new to science. Personally I think we would have found even more if our survey had lasted longer than a few weeks.

camera-trap photo of birds in Suriname

Two birds inspect a camera trap in the Surinamese forest. (© CI/Photo by Krisna Gajapersad)

Our goal with the RAP was to collect data on biodiversity in a place that very little is known about. With this data, we will be better informed about how to best protect certain valuable ecosystems. This is a part of CI-Suriname’s South Suriname program, which is also collecting data and doing mapping exercises with indigenous communities and maroon tribes, who are descendants of runaway slaves.

Krisna Gajapersad of CI-Suriname

Krisna Gajapersad

Ultimately, we are looking to create a conservation corridor with a total area of 2 million hectares (almost 5 million acres) of unspoiled nature. In about a year’s time when we have the official results of this RAP, we hope that all the challenges and hard work that have gone into the expedition will contribute to the creation of this corridor.

Krisna Gajapersad is the ecosystem services coordinator for CI-Suriname. This RAP was the fourth undertaken in Suriname and the first to have been nationally funded through the Suriname Conservation Foundation.

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