The Wild Fowl Trust is run by its president Molly Gaskin and environmentalist Karilyn Shephard. It was founded 42 years ago and has grown to a sprawling 24 hectare spread complete with trails and lakes and now houses approximately 120 species of birds and many more migratory species that visit seasonally.
On April 15, the spouses accompanying the foreign leaders had the opportunity to tour the compound.
Molly Gaskin told Sunday Newsday, “They had limited time. So we basically tailored the tour to suit the amount of time. We only had them for an hour which included receiving them, a welcoming, the tour of the trust and photographs. Other than that, the tour was no different than the tours we have on a regular basis. I must say, though, the feel was a very positive one.”
She explained that a main goal of the tour is also to educate the public about the work of the Wild Fowl Trust. “We informed them about our work, our research, the breeding programmes, the re-introduction programmes, the environmental education programmes we have for schools that range from primary level to tertiary as well as programmes aimed at battered women, the blind and the physically and mentally challenged in our society.”
Gaskin noted that they learned that the Wild Fowl Trust is the second oldest wetland reserve for water fowl research, second only to Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, England. The spouses also learned that it is the only nature reserve in the world that is situated within an industrial complex.
According to her, the spouses enjoyed the tour and were very eager to learn about the birds and plants.
“They seemed very interested and asked a lot of questions,” she said. “You can always gauge how people feel based on their feedback. What we hoped to succeed in was making an impact on them so that they take what they learned back with them to their country.”
She said the thrust of the work of the Wild Fowl Trust, too, is establishing the importance of linkages. “Everything is linked in some way. The natural environment, human life, social ills and economic issues are all linked together. Understanding that could help alleviate many of the problems we are facing today. A big role of the Wild Fowl Trust is to educate people.”
Gaskin mentioned that the spouses also had the opportunity to witness the release of one of the species of ducks that the Wild Fowl Trust is trying to breed in greater numbers.
“There are five different species of wild ducks that we are working to bring back. Until the 1960’s, these ducks were considered visitors to Trinidad and Tobago and not residents. They are what are termed to be extrapated from an area that can no longer sustain them. These are the white-cheeked pintail, the white-faced whistling duck, the black-bellied whistling duck, the fulvous whistling duck and the wild muscovy which was once totally extrapated. So we have been breeding them and releasing them into the wild.”
She said that 10 black-bellied whistling ducks were ringed and released. As they flew off into the distance, the spouses looked on and applauded.
She said the they have successfully re-introduced birds into the Caroni, Nariva swamp and Oropouche areas and these birds have begun to breed on the outside. Gaskin even said that many species frequently return to the Wild Fowl Trust on their own and take refuge with the young during the hunting season.
Gaskin added that they also breed the national bird the Scarlet Ibis. The unmistakable crimson icon of our country has suffered as a result of habitat interference, habitat destruction, food availability and illegal hunting. These have hindered the bird’s population growth because the Scarlet Ibises suddenly stopped breeding some years ago.
The tour also touched on the topic of local flora and fauna. Many of the plants are not just pretty creations since they also have other unique properties.
Gaskin said, “The spouses learned about many of our local plant life like the pommerac, boiscanot, cocoa and lotus. These have agricultural values as well as medicinal values. Many of these plants can be used from stem to fruit in many different ways. A lot of cottage industries and commercial industries are built on these fruits. Also, a chief lesson of the lotus is that it symbolises that even out of the muddiest environment something beautiful can bloom. This is a profound message for people living in unfavourable circumstances.” Gaskin who has been working with the Wild Fowl Trust since 1978, said that the importance of conservation is often overlooked: “Conservation is about successfully returning to the wild. Conservation is the key to environmental stability.”
She indicated that the work of the Wild Fowl Trust is ongoing, but that more can be achieved through greater cooperation with the government and even other countries in the region.
For more information, visit the Wild Fowl Trust website at: www.trinwetlands.org