Meet the Team

A Word From Our President

Hello! My name is Christina Ward – I am an artist and conservationist dedicated to preserving the wildlife of Guyana and enriching the lives of the country’s native people. In collaboration with colleagues from Surama Eco-Village, Creature Conserve, a registered 501c3 and my personal business: Colors for Conservation, we are launching the “Save the Giants” conservation initiative. “Save the Giants” will expand upon the giant otter surveys currently being conducted by local Makushi surveyors, Kenneth Butler (Surama) and Oswin Ambrose (Massara), along the Rupununi River in Region 9 of the Guyanese interior.  Please visit our “Blog” pages for more information on the current field surveys.

The focal species for the “Save the Giants” project will be the iconic giant otter; an endangered species whose wild population numbers are merely speculation, due to insufficient data collection. Save the Giants will employ and train indigenous villagers to conduct proper giant otter population surveys and collect fecal samples, which will be used for genetic testing.  We will be partnering with the Molecular Ecology Department of Durham University in England to complete the genetic analysis.

As giants are the focal species for data collection, they will also serve as an umbrella species for their wild “giant” counterparts.  In addition to collecting data on the otters, the surveyors will collect supplemental data on the surrounding environment and patrol for signs of illegal activity, pertaining to illegal extraction, fishing and poaching.  Save the Giants is partnering with Panthera Guyana to develop ways for surveyors to maximize their data collection time on the river and in the field.

As the project evolves and the trained otter surveyors become familiarized with giant otter behavior, opportunities to establish sustainable “otter watch” eco-tours will be abundant.  Currently, in country, there are no tour companies who offer this type of encounter. Giant otters, with their playful and communal nature are always a delight to view in the wild, but their aversion to humans must be respected and proper guidelines must be in place when conducting an otter watch tour.  Standards for appropriate giant otter eco-tourism ventures have been published by Jessica Groenendjik; communications director with San Diego Zoo Global, Peru. Jessica’s extensive field research on giant otters allowed for the creation of a standardized data collection methodology, which will be used during our otter surveys.

Christina Ward, CEO

Christina Ward is an artist and life-long animal conservationist. With a background in animal management and wildlife rehabilitation, Christina has worked in the animal care field for over a decade while creating artwork to express her love of the natural world.

Her work in this field began in 2007 when she accepted an offer to oversee the development of Hampton Island Organic Farm and Wildlife Center, located on a pristine island off the southern coast of Georgia and focusing on the care of endangered species in the area including indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, and diamondback terrapins. Christina continued her work in wildlife rehabilitation from 2008–2011 while serving as the head of animal care at Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA, where she oversaw the wildlife rehabilitation and education programs.

In 2012, Christina assumed a position as a swing keeper in the mammal department at Zoo Atlanta, where she worked with a range of animals including giant pandas, elephants, rhinos, and tigers. Although each and every one of the animals under Christina’s care inspired her involvement in various conservation initiatives, the two giant otters obtained by the zoo in 2015 changed the course of her life. In early 2016, she collaborated with Dr. Lucy Spelman on a giant otter population survey, conducted from the Karanambu Lodge on the Rupununi River, Guyana. Energized by this experience and with the hope of raising money to contribute to the continuing otter conservation work in Guyana, she started her own business: Colors for Conservation. The proceeds from its sale of original artwork and merchandise go to support conservation-based organizations with a mission to spread awareness about animal conservation. In early 2017, she returned to Guyana to lead the second otter population survey, sponsored by Creature Conserve, a non-profit organization that brings artists and scientists together to foster informed and sustained animal conservation.

She now serves on the Creature Conserve board and returned to Guyana in the late spring of 2017 to evaluate the status of the giant otter monitoring survey and make plans for the future of this program. With the hopes of expanding the current giant otter survey across a broader and more comprehensive study range and encouraging greater participation among local communities, Christina launched the “Save the Giants” initiative.

Christina has a B.S. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Georgia and was recognized by the State of Georgia as a registered wildlife rehabilitator from 2008 to 2010.

 

Bridgette San Marco, Vice President

Bridgette San Marco is a biologist, conservationist, behavioralist and giant otter enthusiast, who has worked with a wide range of different taxa in zoological facilities for over fifteen years. In addition to her work with Save The Giants, Bridgette is a giant otter biologist at a zoological facility. With several years experience in otter biology and husbandry, Bridgette uses this information to help with the scientific research of the species but also in sharing that knowledge with others to inspire a love of otters as far and wide as possible.

Dedicated to help conserve wild giant otters and their habitats, Bridgette joined the Save The Giants team in hopes to help research and protect possibly the last stronghold for giant otters, the beautiful landscapes of Guyana. Bridgette does her best to educate people around the world about this amazing species and what they can do to help protect them. Globally we all need to be more cognizant of how our actions effect the environment around us. People mine for natural resources all over the world, by doing your part in your own backyards you'll be helping species worldwide.

Bridgette has a B.S. in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Kenneth Butler, Field Manager

Kenneth Butler is a Guyana native with roots in two native Amerindian tribes: the Arawak and the Makushi. He resides with his family in Surama Village, located in the North Rupununi Region of Guyana. Kenneth’s career in Ecotourism allows him to share his love with the natural world and educate others on the importance of preserving Guyana’s precious natural resources. As the founder of Green Diamond Nature Tours, Kenneth utilizes his abundant knowledge on the creatures and plants of the interior to provide his guests with engaging forest and river experiences. Kenneth’s adventurous spirit, along with his warm, witty demeanor and compassion for wildlife make him one of Guyana’s most admired field guides.

In 2016, Kenneth joined the Save the Giants team and began conducting monthly otter surveys along the Rupununi. His expertise in river navigation, camera trap placement, giant otter behavior, along with his esteemed reputation among the local communities make Kenneth an indispensable member of the “Save the Giants” initiative.

Oswin Ambrose, Field Researcher

Oswin Ambrose, “Oz,” a Macushi Amerindians native of Yupakari Village, serves as Save the Giant’s head field researcher.  Growing up in Yupakari, a land sandwiched between the Kanuku and Pakaraima mountain ranges, in the midst of the Essequibo and Amazon basins, Oswin was immersed in the all of the rich biodiversity that Guyana has to offer. From a young age, Oz enjoyed spending time on the river, bird watching and of course, looking for giant otters.  As an experienced naturalist and boat captain, Oz has an uncanny ability to locate and identify the many species of birds, amphibians and mammals that inhabit this region…especially giant otters!  Oswin, with his expertise in the field, his giant otter locating “6th sense” and his winsome sense of humor, which is guaranteed to lift spirits, is an invaluable part of the Save the Giants team.  When Oz is not leading guided tours or tracking otters, he enjoys drawing, playing football and assisting his sister in her work as a nurse at the local Lethem Hospital.

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