Two hours south of Georgetown, Guyana, a paved highway recedes, giving way to a rutted red road gushing through thick rainforest. In its muddiest spots, the road swallows trucks and spits them out at dangerous angles. Many hours later, it leads to an area of protected land called Iwokrama, a Rhode Island-size forest in the heart of Guyana, crowded with ancient buttress-trunked trees draped in liana vines.
Since 2003, Jake Bicknell has been a fixture within this forest. Now a doctoral student in biodiversity management at the U.K.’s University of Kent, he is cataloging Iwokrama’s iconic and bizarre species, including jaguars, giant anteaters, anacondas, and scads of birds and bats. (Guyana boasts more than 700 bird and 120 bat species.)
Specifically, he’s in Iwokrama to find out how logging affects tropical forest wildlife. Conventional logging ruins forests and decimates species, but low-impact methods of harvesting timber might not be so damaging. In fact, Bicknell believes selective logging can become a tool for protecting the forests and biodiversity of Guyana — a developing country eager to tap its natural resources as a way to boost its economy.
“There will always be a market for products extracted from forests, so the point is to do it in the least impacting way,” says Bicknell.