There is an old proverb which says: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.” During your stay at HADCO Experiences at Asa Wright Nature Centre, you will meet our Guides during your orientation. They will take you far.
They can take you exploring along the trails on a captivating adventure, sharing their knowledge about interesting things you might encounter along the way, unravelling the secrets of nature and igniting your passion for wildlife conservation.
You can lose track of time if you sit on the verandah and start chatting with one of them about the echo of the Bearded Bellbird or the flashing White-necked Jacobins. In a short time, you come to discover that they are a vast storehouse of knowledge, immensely capable of expanding your understanding and appreciation of the world around you.
Our Guides at HADCO Experiences are not merely Guides; they are guardians of this precious wildlife reserve, dedicated to serving the nation in a form of national service; preserving a section of the Arima Valley for the benefit of all. All, in this case meaning: all the phenomena of the physical world within its boundaries.
What makes a good Guide? According to Mukesh Ramdass, Guide Supervisor and Groundsman at HADCO Experiences at Asa Wright Nature Centre, “a good guide has a love and a passion for what they are doing. They must have love for wildlife and they must have that within them. They must be excited to be out here. When you are excited, the guest is excited. It’s infectious. So to become a really good Guide you must have that love, you must love the environment that you work in.”
Mukesh has had a long love affair with nature that has shaped his remarkable journey. He grew up in the village of Verdant Vale, a tiny village along the Arima – Blanchisseuse Road, straddling the Arima River. It is in Verdant Vale that Charles William Beebe, once curator of the New York Zoological Gardens, established Simla, a tropical research station in 1949.
Mukesh’s uncle, Jogie Ramlal, was part of Beebe’s welcoming party, presenting him with the highly venomous Mapepire Zanana/ The Bushmaster (Lachesis Muta) within a week of his arrival. The offering marked the beginning of a long friendship between the two men, and Ramlal worked steadfastly alongside Beebe at Simla becoming a sort of expert himself. When Simla became part of the AWNC he worked at the nature centre too, as did his brother, Roodal.
Ramlal introduced Mukesh to the AWNC around the age of seven. He encouraged him to come during his school holidays to work in the garden. He did just that, volunteering his service. One day, he was asked by a guest to identify a plant and he was unable to do so. He remembered, “she told me: “You live on a small island and you don’t even know your birds and plants.”
Her comment sparked a fire in the young man. Soon, he was spending his small stipend on reference books. He often accompanied his uncle on excursions to the Nariva Swamp, the Caroni Swamp and other birding hotspots.
After completing his secondary school education at Holy Cross College in Arima, he returned to AWNC and was hired as a part-time florist. Then, he became a full-time gardener. When he got his driver’s licence at 17, he worked as a driver and courier too, running errands or sometimes collecting guests at the airport. In his spare time, he would sit on the verandah and pick up knowledge from the more senior Guides. He officially became a Guide in 1984. Eventually, he became the Head Naturalist Guide and started training other Guides himself. He has been a stalwart at Asa Wright for 37 years.
As restoration, rehabilitation and restructuring took place around the AWNC before its reopening, Mukesh worked closely with the new landscapers to invite hummingbirds and other species into the garden, planting more tremor trees, vervine, lantanas, wild tobacco, wild red clove, powder puff and bromeliads and other flowering plants, ensuring that conservation was paramount. He also offered advice as trails were restructured and reinforced to improve accessibility.
Even off-duty, he is always in the forest gathering data and observing animals. ‘Even when I am not working I am walking in the forest,” he joked.
In his free time? “Whenever I have free time I am busy along the Arima-Blanchisseuse Road planting native plants, trees and shrubs loved by birds,” he confessed. “I believe we all benefit from this practice. Even external birding Guides can take their guests anywhere along the road and find great spots to watch and document a large variety of birds, even some very rare birds. If we don’t do it and the focus is always to cut and clear, what’s going to happen to the bird life? This way we are practising conservation, protecting the wildlife, and preventing erosion.”
His passion is infectious, and his thirst for knowledge inspires the younger members of his team: Elizabeth, Caleb, Jeremy and Kareem, who have all had life-changing experiences at the AWNC. As they continue to learn and grow, they embody the spirit of conservation and carry forward the mission of the Asa Wright Nature Centre.
“I have fulfilled my dreams here and achieved a sense of peace,” he reflected. “I really like fulfilling the dreams of our visitors and ensuring they have their desired experience. That’s what the mission is all about: to protect part of the Arima valley in its natural state and to promote conservation education for the study of all the wildlife for all the people. I am really grateful that HADCO Experiences understands.”