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Quarters for Conservation: Save the Giants

Hello.  This is Kenn Harwood, Associate Curator of Mammals at Zoo Atlanta, and I am the Quarters for Conservation Champion for Save the Giants. Save the Giants is one of three projects supported in Zoo Atlanta’s 2020-2021 Quarters for Conservation program year.  This initiative contributes 25 cents of every general admission ticket to programs for wildlife.  All of those quarters really add up and make a significant contribution to the selected programs.
Founded in 2017 by a former Zoo Atlanta otter keeper, Save the Giants is a nonprofit, community-driven conservation organization dedicated to preserving Guyana’s wildlife via a multi-disciplinary approach. The focal species for Save the Giants is the endangered giant river otter.  Not only are giant otters listed as endangered, but they are also poorly studied throughout much of their South American range, which includes Guyana.  Save the Giants’ goal is to advance giant otter conservation in Guyana by involving the local community and other institutions in field research, population surveys, and genetic testing that generate the information needed to properly conserve this species.  The IUCN lists giant otters as data deficient, and without collecting this current data, giant otters will remain underrepresented in conservation throughout their range.  Ultimately, Save the Giants will add to the collective knowledge of giant otters in Guyana while simultaneously generating awareness and support for their protection.
Save the Giants is also very involved in the education of the local communities.  By supporting Yupukari’s primary and secondary schools, Save the Giants is hopeful that they are helping to create a future of conservation-minded young adults – young adults who will continue to support Save the Giants’ mission and remain involved in protecting their region’s natural resources.  Save the Giants is currently involved in the development and construction of the Yupukari Science Center in the village of Yupukari.  While this center will serve as a hub for the Save the Giants initiative, it will also enable the entire community to have access to extra educational opportunities in S.T.E.M. It will have a computer lab for use by the community and for entering critical data to the Save the Giants otter database; a wet lab; a visitor center for locals to sell goods to eco-tourists visiting; and an opportunity for them to educate the guests about all the important conservation projects taking place in the community
Unfortunately, as in the rest of the world, COVID-19 has had a major effect on the project so far this year.  Fortunately, this project is run by local peoples, and while their efforts have been impacted, they have not been stopped.  Here is an update from the field by project coordinator Jennifer Jenkins:
“Here at Save the Giants Guyana, we have been very focused on team safety as the coronavirus continues to sweep through South America and across the world. Our work is limited to our homes and the river. Our team members only leave the compound of our country homes for grocery shopping or major medical needs. Another precaution we have recently taken to minimize risk is decreasing the size of our team. Since the beginning of 2020, our team has slowly gone from five field workers to two field workers. Although a small team, these two members are qualified and diligently working through our goals of monitoring giant river otters in Guyana and keeping community members educated on the topic of endangered species in the region. When we see fishermen we make a point to ask them if they have encountered any otters during their day; this gives us a window of opportunity to keep a note of the number of otters in our river and also a chance to explain to the locals that otters are not an enemy. The extent of our community outreach activities is done through the library with teachers distributing supplies to school children every Monday and Friday. Save the Giants was fortunate enough to donate art supplies and school supplies, including pencils, paper, and crayons, so the students can stay active from home! Save the Giants management works together with the teachers to keep track of the needs of children during this time when their parents might be making less income than usual. Save the Giants also works closely with a small boutique owner who educates customers on the positive impact the organization is having on the development and protection of the community.”
Hopefully, conditions from COVID-19 will change for the better in the coming year, and with the funds generated by Quarters for Conservation, Save the Giants hopes to be able to expand the current survey area, thereby increasing their effectiveness in the conservation of giant river otters and all other species that fall under their “umbrella.”
(photo courtesy of Save the Giants)
Kenn Harwood
Associate Curator of Mammals and Quarters for Conservation Champion, Save the Giants    

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