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Saving the World From Where You Are by Supporting Community Conservation Where They Are

I had always heard about there being a “parrot island” in Guyana on the Essequibo River. Many countries in this region have “parrot islands,” places where large numbers of parrots spend the night. They choose islands because they are a bit harder to get to and offer safety from poachers and trappers. I went to go see it in November 2019, to document it, to see if it could be conserved, and to evaluate it as a place where we could train University students.

Sloth island staff look for parrots as they come to parrot island in the background.
Owner of Sloth Island Resort counting at Parrot Island, Guyana

I choose to be a guest at Sloth Island Resort, which was only 5 minutes boat ride from the Island. This resort caters to ecotourists and regular tourists, and has hosted scientific expeditions before. They take tourists to see parrot island, but they had never counted them. We did for two days and estimated there were about 2611 orange-winged amazon parrots. The owner said that paying such close attention to the parrots during the count, helped him see the birds as individuals, as worthy beings.

The staff at Sloth Island Resort are wonderful boat captains and birders as well
Staff counting at Parrot Island

On our last night counting a couple of tourists joined us in the counts and I don’t think I have ever heard so many exclamations of “wow” before in such a short period of time. The parrots come in line after line, making it very hard to count them accurately.

We counters too were jazzed; however, this euphoria was soon dispelled because in the gathering dark, I saw flashlights shining on the shore. “Shall we go investigate, and will it be safe to do so?” I asked the resort staff. They agreed to go visit, and so we motored over there, not knowing what hunters, fishers, or poachers we would meet on the dark shore.

The parrots are coming in by the hundreds into parrot island, Guyana
Sunset at Parrot Island count

It was a boatload of local boys from the nearby villages, hiding their slingshots and hanging their heads as they were asked what they were doing. They were hunting parrots! Now in Guyana, you can only take parrots if you have a trapper’s license, but as is so true for much of Latin America, enforcement is spotty