Lesley’s studies are in and around the Rewa River, which has the largest arapaima population in Guyana. With techniques learned from Shedd’s veterinarians and expert support from local Amerindian research partners, she safely implants tiny radio transmitters in the giant fish. Then she and her crew track their movements through radiotelemetry — and through deep water and mud.
Her research team also includes biology students from the University of Guyana. By providing them with this rare field experience, she is helping to train the people who will protect and manage Guyana’s wildlands. The president of Guyana has even visited her field station to learn about this important project firsthand.
No time to lose
In three field seasons, Dr. Lesley has tagged more than 20 arapaimas and already made important discoveries about the fish’s movements and territories that will help shape a protected area.
But Dr. Lesley’s research has a sense of urgency: The Rupununi region is vulnerable to development, oil drilling, logging, mining and clearing for agriculture. The complex network of seasonal ponds, meandering creeks and shallow lakes that dot and cross vast grasslands and forests are home to a rich diversity of wildlife — some only found there. And Amerindian communities are intimately connected to the wetlands for food, materials for their homes, canoes and crafts, and traditional medicines. Protecting the arapaimas’ habitat, which expands with the river during the annual floods, will also protect Rupununi’s freshwater and terrestrial habitats, preserving a unique ecosystem and culture.