Celebrate Local Wildlife at this Saturday's Endemic Animal Festival!

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Grand Case, St. Martin–Residents and visitors of all ages are invited to discover and learn about the most unique part of St. Martin’s natural heritage this Saturday at the second annual Endemic Animal Festival. The event will take place from 9am to noon on Saturday, April 25th at the new Discovery Farm and Garden at Seaside Nature Park in Cape Bay. The Endemic Animal Festival is a free, public Wildlife Discovery Event, created by Les Fruits de Mer for locals and tourists alike to celebrate the island’s extraordinary local and regional endemics: the animals that live only on St. Martin or only in our region.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about local wildlife, important habitats, and history from experts,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’d like to welcome everyone to come out to celebrate the island’s amazing endemic animals and enjoy a fabulous day at Seaside Nature Park!” The 2015 Festival will offer a full array of activities designed and lead by naturalists, island wildlife experts, local reptile specialists, and other wildlife aficionados.

Festival-goers will have the opportunity to see and learn about dozens of animal species that are found only on St. Martin, or only in our region, from a series of illuminating interactive exhibits and displays, and experts will also be on hand to share knowledge and answer questions. Guided Nature Walks will be led by naturalist Mark Yokoyama, Les Fruits de Mer co-founder and author of The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin.

On these tours, event attendees can discover how to look for local and regional endemics including birds and lizards, practice wildlife-watching skills to use on future outings, and explore one of the Park’s many trails with magnificent sea views. Young event-goers will enjoy making art inspired by the island’s endemic wildlife at the Endemic Art Station, where kids are invited to get creative with coloring and activity pages designed by local artists featuring native animals.

The Endemic Animal Discovery Station will give adults and kids an unforgettable opportunity to get up-close and personal with a variety of the island’s local and regional endemic species. Live insects and reptiles will be on display, and guests will learn from exhibits and mini-presentations about endemic animals’ role in important ecosystems and history. Event attendees will also get the chance to participate in the Festival’s Tree of Life Workshop.

The Workshop will be the official launch of Club Gaïac, a new project to promote the replanting of Lignum Vitae, an endangered native tree also known as “Gaïac” or the “Tree of Life”. The project includes a special Club Gaïac page online, with an interactive map of the Gaïac trees on St. Martin, as well as a library of resources related to the history and use of the tree and how to grow it. At the Tree of Life Workshop, guests will learn about the rich cultural significance of the Gaïac, and its tremendous variety of historical uses in everything from shipbuilding to bush medicine, as well as its biology, role in the environment, and relationship to local wildlife.

Workshop participants will get to choose a sprouted seed from one of two local Gaïacs, potted in a soil mixture of their choice, to take it with them to grow at home as part of an experiment to learn the best way to raise seedlings of this tree, and they’ll be able to share their progress on the Club Gaïac project page. “It’s impossible to truly understand native animals without also having some understanding of native plants, and the Gaïac is perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating tree in our region,” explained Yokoyama. “The Club Gaïac project is interesting because it involves online mapping, crowdsourced experimentation and habitat restoration.

It also unfolds on multiple time scales: this year we should learn a lot about how to grow seedlings, within a few years we’ll learn what types of locations are best for transplanting, in 20 years we can harvest seeds from the trees we’ve grown and in 100 years tourists may be booking trips here just to see these wonderful trees.” The Tree of Life Workshop at the Festival and the ongoing Club Gaïac project are habitat restoration activities created for St. Martin by Les Fruits de Mer, as part of similar activities taking place all over the Caribbean this year.

The Endemic Animal Festival is part of the regional Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF), which has a 2015 theme of Restore Habitat, Restore Birds. Throughout this year, at dozens of CEBF events on many islands throughout the Caribbean, people will learn how restoring local habitats can benefit the unique birds found only in the Caribbean. Many of these events will include habitat restoration activities like clean-ups and distribution of native tree seedlings for planting.

Everyone attending Saturday’s Festival is also invited to enjoy special activities offered by the host of the event, the new Discovery Farm and Garden at Seaside Nature Park, created to help children develop respect for animals through hands-on interaction. Guests of all ages will be able to explore the Garden and pet the animals at the Discovery Farm, including a miniature horse, pygmy goats and pigs, rabbits, and more. Pony rides will also be available for $5 during the event.

The Discovery Farm and Garden is located inside Seaside Nature Park. The Park is a beautiful area of coastal scrub, a common type of habitat on St. Martin, and home to many of the island’s endemic animals. It is also one of the few remaining natural spaces in the area, making it both an important habitat for wildlife and a great place for residents and visitors to experience St. Martin’s natural heritage.

The main exhibit and activity areas are covered, so the Festival will take place on the 25th, rain or shine. Seaside Nature Park is located on Cay Bay Road, just past the GEBE facility. Cay Bay Road meets Welfare Road in Simpson Bay by the Daily Extra Supermarket. Signs to Seaside Nature Park are posted along Cay Bay Road. Festival-goers should wear sun protection, and those who plan to go on a Guided Nature Walk are recommended to bring comfortable shoes or sandals, a water bottle and their own pair of binoculars if they have one. There will also be binoculars available for sharing on the Walks.

The 2015 Endemic Animal Festival is made possible by the hard work and talent of many volunteers; the support of Les Fruits de Mer’s event partner, Seaside Nature Park; and the generous sponsorship of Hotel L’Esplanade, Delta Petroleum, Island Water World and Le Petit Hotel, with in-kind contributions from The Scuba Shop. The Endemic Animal Festival is a proud participant in BirdsCaribbean’s Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, which includes events throughout the Caribbean.

For more information about the 2015 Endemic Animal Festival, visit: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/events/endemic-animal-festival/ https://www.facebook.com/events/1553703494895013/

For more information about Club Gaïac, visit: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/club-gaiac/ 

Photo/http://wanderlusttraveler.blogspot.com/2013/05/st-maartenst-martin-sightseeing.html