Land of diverse pets and serious vets

St. Lucia Mirror
May 28, 1999

MOST of us Caribbean people are hardly aware of the real differences in the ways we live over here on these islands, against how Guyanese live in that vast country, where six races with as many cultures and twice as many religious beliefs coexist in the only English-speaking country in the mainland of South America.

Here, we'll do certain things they also do. But, there, they do certain things we wouldn't even think of.

Like rearing pet snakes. As pets.

But in the interior or hinterland areas mostly populated by Guyana's first people, the indigenous Amerindians of the tribes (nations), the harmony between man and nature is manifested in various ways.

On an ordinary day in any village in the North West District, for example, one can bump into someone selling a cured tiger's skin. Or a leopard's. Or a pair of monkeys. Or a macaw, Or a bunch of iguanas. Or several parrots.

Or a young man simply taking his monkey and parrot for a ride. On a bicycle.

Or a young girl simply taking her pet snake for a walk. And the lovely pet's head being stroked by an admiring friend of its owner. In the middle of the road.

The countey's deep jungles and long rivers are home to thousands of species of birds, animals and fishes. Its muddy waters are home to the Hassar, one of the oldest surviving armoured fish in the Amazon region. A real delicacy. You've got to know how to eat it, lest the armour permanently scars your tongue.

You can fish any amount of shrimp from any trench (river by our island standards). Or piranhas. Or an alligator, Or a water snake.

Parrots of all types and colours, white-eyed talkers or chirping scarlets. Then, there's the elusive deer (Yes, as in reindeer). Otters in the Rupununi, manatees at Abary and Mahaicony, crocodiles and alligators everywhere. (I still can't quite tell the difference between the two, but I know now what their flaming red, round eyes look like in rivers at night...)

Then, there are all those land and sea turtles, including what we call `molokoi'. Wild hogs are hunted for meat. Some even take pride in boasting about having shot a Harpy aEagle, one of the largest species in the Americas, w ose wing span can reach 12 feet.

And not forgetting the prehistoric armadillos. And the world famous labba and creek water - a combination Guyanese insist is lethal enough to result in any first-time visitor's guaranteed, repeated return to that country. (I probably had too much of both.)

The country's diverse wildlife has spawned a thriving trade that has lasted many years. And an equally thriving illegal trade in certain species that continues to defy even the best efforts of the authorities.

No hater of animals myself, my home in Guyana at times resembled a wildlife zoo of sorts, with a variety of pets that ranged from dogs, cats and monkeys to parrots, tortoises and what-have-you.

I tried to get a snake once, but only succeeded in adorning the roof of my drawing room with its 12-foot skin. No way was anyone else at home prepared to coexist with a reptile.

An animal-loving vet friend simply refused to care any of those pets from the wild that I kept, insisting that their place is in the wild, not caged or chained at my house. But I persisted in raising pets and planting flowers - two of my best forms of therapy. So much so that my tortoises even began laying in my flower garden.

But it would seem that my three-year old son was eventually secretly enlisted in my vet friend's society of official animal lovers. I couldn't believe what he did, but he did it in the space of one week - he released all my dear wi nged and four-footed pets from captivity, even describing to his mother and me how the parrot flew "whoosh" away and how "de monkey jump de trees an' go 'way."

Now, I'm back home and missing that different life among other beings, reduced to being able to only rear a single dog.

And a Dustbin Terrier at that!

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples