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FAUNA AND FLORA IN KAIETEUR NATIONAL PARK

Kaieteur National Park is one of few places in the world where you can see endangered species. The Park supports a micro environment including the local Tank Bromeliads (plants that hold water in their stiff, upturned leafs and which are the second largest in the world) in which the tiny Golden Frog spends its entire life. The lucky visitor may also see the famous flights of the Swifts or 'Makanaima' birds which nest under the vast shelf of rock carved by the Falls over the centuries. With luck you may also see the Ocelot, a medium size spotted cat, about twice as large as an average house cat. On the trail to Johnson's View one can often find the Cock-of-the-Rock with its bright orange feathers sitting on a low branch peering inquisitively at you.

GOLDEN FROG

Golden dart-poison frog (Colostethus beebei), is a small brilliantly colored tree frog that spends its entire life-cycle inside the micro-ecosystem of the cloud forest's bromeliads. It is an opportunistic sit-and-wait predator whose diet includes many small arthropods, but especially mosquitoes and midges. Often described as "jewels of the rainforests," dart-poison frogs, are adorned in various vivid colors to warn potential predators of their deadly toxins. They have bright patterns of green, red, orange, yellow, blue, white, and/or jet black depending on the species.

The dart-poison frogs live near rivers, streams, and various small bodies of water, while hunting and living in the foliage and leaf litter of the evergreen forest floor. A few species have adapted to life in the trees, and other species can be found in the water, too. Dart-poison frogs, unlike most frogs, are primarily diurnal and can be seen on the forest floor in broad daylight. Adult frogs receive their nutrition by capturing ants, termites, small insects, and arthropods. The average lifespan of a dart-poison frog is about 5-7 years, although many live longer than that.

The mating season, occurring after the rainy season has started, is signaled to begin when sounds of buzzing, humming, chirping, or trilling can be heard all over the forest. Males attract females through elaborate calls, often after careful planning of the best place to store their eggs until the tadpoles are ready to be placed in water. After finding the male, the female deposits a few large eggs on a leaf that is in close proximity of a body of water, the site that the male has carefully decided on. Being near water insures that the eggs will remain moist, which is essential to the tadpoles' growth and development. The leaf usually hangs about 1.2 meters above the forest floor. The male then fertilizes the eggs and is responsible for guarding the eggs and making sure that they stay wet. After 2-4 weeks the tadpoles are ready to be transported to other bodies of water where they will develop into adult frogs. Many times the male frog carries the tadpoles on his back, which contains a sticky mucus. In some species the female is responsible for transportation, and in a few species both the male and female seek out the best sites for their baby tadpoles to develop. Many times the parent frogs take each tadpole to a separate place because the tadpoles are cannibalistic. How they remember the multiple locations is still unknown. Good sites for developing tadpoles tend to be bromeliad funnels, branches, hollow trees, and bamboo stalks. One species even uses the rain filled "monkey pots" found on the forest floor that are produced by Brazil nut trees. The frogs feed the tadpoles unfertilized eggs about once every five days and show parental care. After about 2-3 months, the tadpoles have completely developed into adult frogs and are ready to pass on their genes to yet another generation of dart-poison frogs.

The dart-poison frogs secrete alkaloid poisons, which are complex and bitter-tasting. Alkaloid poisons, which include caffeine, nicotine, cannabidiol, cocaine, and morphine, are some of the most familiar and addictive drugs known to man. They tend to interfere with liver and cell membrane function, and they can cause cessation of lactation, birth defects, or abortion. Alkaloid chemicals are harmful to numerous animals, and some species have been found that can be harmful and even deadly to humans: Touching it can be fatal to a human, especially if the toxins get into the bloodstream through a laceration in the skin. The frogs do not have poison glands on their feet.

The alkaloid toxins affect muscles and nerves, many times causing respiratory and heart failure. The Choco Indians of western Columbia use these frogs in hunting by placing the toxins on the tips of arrows or darts. The tribes boil the frogs and then dip the darts in the poison, or they hang the frogs over a fire by forcing a sharp stick into their mouths. The heat causes the poison to moisten the back of the frog in the form of a white froth, making it easy to get on the tip of a dart. One frog can produce enough toxin to coat 50-100 arrows, and the darts remain toxic for about a year. The Indians use the darts to kill spider and howler monkeys, as well as other small animals. The batrachotoxin, the most toxic of the alkaloids, can aid in the hunting of jaguars, deer, and birds. Frogs of the species Phyllobates terribilis do not have to be killed for their poison. The Indians just rub the darts on their backs and the poison is secreted. Studies of the toxins from different species have shown that frogs of similar species have vastly different alkaloid chemicals.

Due to the rapid destruction of their habitats, these frogs are currently on the threatened list. Scientists have recently been exploring the possible link between the frogs' diet of ants and the ability to produce alkaloid poisons. More alkaloids are found in ant species than in any other group of insects, and it has been observed that ants comprise from 50-73% of the dart-poison frogs' diet. Further research has shown that other non-toxic frog species have diets with only about 12-16% ants. The consumption of ants that contain alkaloid compounds may be the primary character that led to the development of toxic skin and the radiation of poisonous species. Researchers are now trying to find ways of raising ant species to feed frogs in captivity in hopes that someday the captive frogs can produce enough alkaloid substances for more substantial findings. Without these toxins being produced in large accessible quantities, research can be minimal at best.  

Without measures to protect their natural habitats, the dart-poison frogs may become extinct. Their extinction will decrease the diversity of animal life and prevent many new chemicals from being discovered. These new chemicals could provide biomedical researchers with information that will help to develop drugs that can be extremely important to humans. Saving the frogs' natural habitat will prove to be beneficial to everyone. Who knows....one day, your life may literally be saved by a frog! From: Ecology Of Dart-Poison Frogs, by: David and Ryan, students at Erskine College, Due West, SC, USA  


SCISSORS TAILED SWIFT

The white-chinned and white-collared swifts (Cypseloides Cryptus) are easily recognized by their rapid, fluttering flight, and long, narrow wings. Though the swifts of Kaieteur do not look all that different from any other swift, they are remarkable; they make their home on the nearby cliffs of the plateau as well as behind the Falls itself. These insect-eating birds fill the air at dawn and dusk, and they spend most of their waking time in the air, skimming around Kaieteur Falls and feeding on flying insects. At night they sweep down at amazing speed to settle in their roosts. The roar of the torrent is immense, yet these tiny birds dive through the raging water to safety behind.

BLACK HOWLER MONKEY (ALOUATTA CARAYA)

The howler monkey, the most widespread primate in South America, gives the sloth a run for the money when it comes to sluggishness. They breed throughout the year and have a lifespan in the wild of from sixteen to twenty years. A good portion of a howler's diet is comprised of leaves from emerging trees (though they prefer buds, flowers, fruit and particularly figs), which means that the monkey spends a good deal of its daytime energy digesting and resting. With such low metabolism, howler monkeys have to move into the sunlight to warm up after cold nights.

One stirring thing the howler monkey can do is howl. When the first explorers came to Amazonia, they fled at the sound of roaring howlers, believing that some terrible creature was readying to attack. Howler monkeys are able to produce these blood-curdling sounds courtesy of an egg-shaped bone in their windpipes. This bone helps amplify the sound of their howling, so much so that a male howler can be heard howling for two miles or more.

Reddish in body color and black in face, the howler monkey cautions other animals to stay away by sounding terrifying howls at both dawn and dusk. These noises alert other howler monkeys of the location of their troops and thus reduce potential conflicts between troops. The male howler monkey has an enlarged goiter-like hyoid bone that allows it to create its unique, voluminous roars.  

The howling ritual usually begins with a single male making several low grunts. To increase the volume and length at which its noise carries through the rain forest, other males in the troop join in and begin to howl. The howling eventually culminates in one long thunderous roar. The higher pitched females of a troop also participate in this practice.  


BUSH DOGS (SPEOTHOS VENATICUS)

The bush dog is one of the primitive species in the family canidae. They are covered with short reddish tan fur and have a long stocky body and short legs. With small ears and short legs, they look more like weasels or otters rather than dogs. Although very little is known about this rare animal, their behaviors are being revealed from captive observation.

It is definitely carnivorous and hunts during the day, preferably in savannahs and tropical and equatorial forests. Its typical prey is the agouti, a large rodent. Although it can hunt alone on occasion, the Bush Dog is usually found in small packs of up to 10-12 individuals, which can bring down much larger prey. It may be the most gregarious among South American canid species. Most canine species are good swimmers, but, thanks to their webbed feet, the bush dog can swim very well and even dive in the water. It uses hollow logs and cavities (e.g. Armadillo burrows) for shelter.

The gestation period is 63 days, and a litter can have up to six dark grey pups. Lactation lasts approximately 8 weeks. The Bush Dog is sexually mature at 1 year and lives for about 10 years. 

Bush dogs can also move very quickly backwards as if having eyes behind their head. Confronted with enemies, they run backwards to the burrow while keeping their eyes on their enemy. Just like any other dogs, they mark their territory by urinating; males urinate with a hind leg kicked up, and females do so while balancing on their front limbs as if doing handstand.  

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IN KAIETEUR NATIONAL PARK

BACKGROUND

Kaieteur National Park is now attracting researchers from around the world. Although its value for research has been long recognized (since 1928), it is only recently that scientific research has begun in earnest. In fact researchers are only beginning to understand the diversity of plants and animals found in the area and there is yet much to be discovered. The Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Guyana (UG) has openly emphasized the importance of more biologically based field research efforts in Guyana, particularly in Kaieteur National Park.

Over the past six years, the University has completed multifaceted research in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute under the program "Biological Diversity of the Guianas (BDG)" as well as with a group of international research centers for the project "Flora of Guianas". Major studies were mainly confined to botany but there were lesser studies of vertebrates, birds, amphibians, and mammals as well.  

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