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ISLAND PROFILE 30 lime January - March 2009 O n my fi rst morning at Guyana's Iwokrama International Centre, prehistoric guttural rumblings and feverish screams jolted me from sleep. I half expected to see some horrible jungle creature hanging over me, but it was just the dawn chorus of red howler monkeys. Awake, I stepped onto the cabin's patio as the sun was rising over the trees on the opposite bank of South America's third- largest river, the Essequibo. As the howlers fell silent, golden rays bathed Iwokrama with a dawn calm that seemed to resonate. A pair of screeching scarlet macaws eventually penetrated the silence and I watched their refl ections on the river's calm surface until a 10- foot black caiman glided by, rippling the image in its wake. Across the river the trees remained dark, faceless shadows robbed of details, yet full of secrets. I knew enough about Guyana's rivers and rainforests to realise much of the morning's activities were going on out of my view. On land, mammals are many and range from big cats such as the jaguar, puma, and ocelot to playful squirrel, capuchin, and brown- bearded saki monkeys. There are also tapirs, giant anteaters, giant armadillos, oversized rodents such as the capybara and aggressive white-lipped peccaries, the smell- them- before- you-see- them wild boars that travel in herds of up to 200. That is to say nothing of the smaller creatures like poisonous and constricting snakes ( bushmasters, labarias and anacondas among them), scorpions, spiders, wasps, bees, mosquitoes, bot fl ies, centipedes, termites and armies of biting ants. In the rivers there are stingrays, six- foot long electric eels, many toothy and prehistoric- think BIG! Guyana's embarrassment of extra-ordinary wildlife includes the following impressive creatures. How many of them have you seen? The 741ft sheer drop of Kaieteur Falls – the jewel in Guyana's crown looking fi sh species, including the menacing piranhas and a one- inch parasitic catfi sh called the candiru that has been known for lodging itself in the urethras of urinating swimmers ( removal involves surgery). So it goes in Guyana, South America's unlikely Caribbean destination. With a historical backdrop of British colonialism and a nation of English- speaking locals, the culture and people of Guyana are decidedly more Caribbean than Latin, but the tourism experience is a far cry from the turquoise waters and 5- star resorts of the islands to the north. What Guyana offers visitors is largely unparalleled elsewhere in the world. GIANT ARMADILLO Small heads, large gray shells, scaled tails, and massive, clawed feet are positively prehistoric. STEFANO SCATA/ TIPS IMAGES PETE OXFORD/ NATUREPL. COM PETE OXFORD/ NATUREPL. COM There is plenty to smile about in Guyana

January - March 2009 lime 33 HARPY EAGLE With a 6ft wingspan and 18lbs of weight, the largest eagle in the Americas easily preys on monkeys and sloths. GIANT ANTEATER The long nose, bushy tail, and galloping gait of the world's largest anteater make it one of Guyana's most distinct and spectacular creatures. LL PETE OXFORD/ NATUREPL. COM DAVID TIPLING/ NATUREPL. COM