Asa Wright Centre Case Study


Click for a gallery of images by photographer and Asa Wright Nature Centre guide Harold Diaz.

The continental origin and proximity of Trinidad to South America, along with its varied habitats, has resulted in an extremely diverse biota. Species lists for this island are impressive, including 97 native mammals, 400 birds, 55 reptiles, 25 amphibians, and 617 butterflies, as well as over 2,200 species of flowering plants. No other area in the West Indies, and few areas of comparable size in tropical America, can match this spectacular species diversity. Trinidad is 50 miles long by about 37 miles wide, and dominated by the Northern Range, which rises to about 3,000 feet and was historically covered by tropical rainforest. Here, in this lush part of this beautiful island, you will find the magical Asa Wright Nature Centre.

To see Squirrel Cuckoos, Toucans, and parrots fly past the gallery, while Tufted Coquettes and half a dozen other species of hummingbirds feed on the vervain by the Reception, is but a small part of what the birder will find at the Centre. Botanists and entomologists and other naturalists will find the area equally rich.

Located at 1,200 feet in the mountains of the Northern Range, seven miles north of the town of Arima, the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) is a world-class natural history destination for students of tropical ecology and is of particular interest to birdwatchers.

The AWNC is a “Not-for-Profit” Trust established in 1967, by a group of naturalists and bird-watchers to “protect part of the Arima Valley in a natural state and to create a conservation and study area for the protection of wildlife and for the enjoyment of all.” It was one of the first nature centres to be established in the Caribbean.

Comprising nearly 1,500 acres of mainly forested land in the Arima and Aripo Valleys of the Northern Range, the AWNC’s properties will be retained under forest cover in perpetuity, to protect the community watershed and provide important wildlife habitat.

The Centre’s main facilities are located on a former cocoa-coffee-citrus plantation, previously known as the Spring Hill Estate. This estate has now been partly reclaimed by secondary forest, surrounded by impressive rainforest, where some original climax forest on the steeper slopes have a canopy of 100-150 feet. The whole effect is one of being deep in tropical rainforest.

A special attraction on the property is a breeding colony of the nocturnal Oilbird, or Guacharo (Steatornis caripensis). Located in Dunston Cave, a beautiful riparian grotto, it is perhaps the most easily accessible colony known for this remarkable species. Indeed, the World Wildlife Fund made a substantial contribution toward the establishment of the Centre in order to protect the colony.

Under talented professional leadership from its volunteer international- and locally-based board of management, the AWNC has developed its efforts in three major areas: Education, Conservation, and Ecotourism. It is now widely recognized as one of the most successful ecotourism stories in the world.

Since its inception 50 years ago, the AWNC has been a leader in ecotourism — long before that word was even coined. It remains a world-class leader in this field, unsurpassed not only in Trinidad & Tobago but across the Caribbean, and is a world-renowned nature destination.


The Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge is a nature resort and scientific research station in the Arima Valley of the Northern Range in Trinidad and Tobago. The centre is one of the top birdwatching spots in the Caribbean; a total of 159 species of birds have been recorded there. The centre is owned by a non-profit trust.

The nature centre is on 270 acres and includes a main estate house with inn and restaurant serving dishes such as callaloo soup with ingredients from an on-site organic garden.[1] Non-adjacent properties have also been added to the centre's land holdings.


The major properties are the Spring Hill Estate and the adjacent William Beebe Tropical Research Station (also known as Simla), which was established by the famous naturalist and explorer William Beebe as a tropical research station for the New York Zoological Society. Beebe bought the 'Verdant Vale' estate in 1949 and named it after Simla in India, which he had visited in 1910.[2] Both properties had previously been cacao estates but contained large stands of original rainforest. The owners of the Spring Hill Estate, Newcombe and Asa Wright, hosted many visiting scientists in the 1950s and '60s, including the noted ornithologistsDavid Snow and Barbara Snow, who made detailed studies of the oilbirds and the very complex courtship dances of the white-bearded manakin and the golden-headed manakin.

The Wrights' home became internationally renowned for its easy access to wildlife, especially the oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) colonies in the nearby Dunston Cave, and large numbers of hummingbirds. After the death of Newcombe Wright in 1967, the Spring Hill Estate was acquired by a non-profit trust.[3] Asa Wright continued to live at the centre until her death in 1971. In 1974, the New York Zoological Society donated Simla to the trust.[4]

The nature centre in 2001 acquired the Rapsey Estate, known as 'El Naranjo' in the Aripo Valley, just west of the Arima Valley for TT$3,3 million. The total nature centre holdings are now over 1,300 acres (526 hectares), but this still makes up less than 5% of the valley.[5]


The centre is one of the most biodiverse areas in the West Indies and is home to more than 400 bird species. Bird species at the nature centre include purple honeycreeper, tufted coquette (a hummingbird), tropical mockingbird, and oilbird (a nocturnal fruit eater).[1]

Red brocket deer as well as the elusive ocelot can be seen in the nature centre's trails. Agouti is also a common animal that occurs in the centre.




  • ffrench, Richard (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (2nd ed.). Comstock Publishing. ISBN 0-8014-9792-2. 
  • Gould, Carol Grant (2004). The Remarkable Life of William Beebe. Washington DC: Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-858-3.
  • Herklots, G. A. C. 1961. The Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Collins, London. Reprint 1965.
  • Linblad, Jan. 1966. Journey to red birds. Trans. by Gwynne Vevers. Reprint: Collins, London. 1969.
  • Rudder, Joy (2009). The old house and the dream: The story of The Asa Wright Nature Centre. Prospect Press, Media and Editorial Projects Limited, Maraval, Port of Spain, Trinidad. ISBN 976-95082-1-7.
  • Snow, D. W. 1956. "The dance of the Manakins." Animal Kingdom (59) 3: pp. 86–91.
  • Zahl, Paul A. 1954. Coro-Coro: The World of the Scarlet Ibis. Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis / New York.
  • Worth, C. Brooke. 1967. A Naturalist in Trinidad. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 10°42′N61°18′W / 10.7°N 61.3°W / 10.7; -61.3

View from the lodge veranda including a bird and feeder in the foreground
Asa Wright at home in 1967
  1. ^ ab5 Asa Wright Nature Centre; Trinidad and Tobago November/ December 2011 Afar page 92
  2. ^Rudder (2009), p. 6.
  3. ^Rudder (2009), pp. 65-70.
  4. ^Gould (2004), p. 404.
  5. ^Rudder (2009), pp. 131, 133.

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