As a young boy growing up in the Tobago countryside, Roy Corbin’s father took him on his first hunting trip into the forest when he was just nine. As an adult he “got the bug”, but as the landscape began changing, so did his passion for hunting.
“I was good at it. But then something hit me when I began seeing the animals disappearing before my eyes. They were getting less and smaller and I realized that I was part of the problem.”
His interest in rehabilitation grew as neighbours would bring him injured wildlife. Collaborating with the Forestry Division, Roy would rehabilitate and release the animals. He also enrolled in conservation courses with William Trim at the Ministry of Tourism. Then, eight years ago, he decided to keep developing the family’s twenty-acre farm, breeding sheep and goats, while also fencing five-acres for a sanctuary. During this period, he became friends with Ian Wright, a British artist who had worked on conservation projects in Africa and migrated to the Caribbean with his wife Lyn. The two decided to make a go of it and the Corbin Local Wildlife Park, a registered non-profit organization located on the summit of the winding Belmont Farm Road in Mason Hall, was created.
The park is remarkable: a guided tour along a tree-lined path reveals spacious enclosures for iguanas, Black-eared Opossum (Manicou), caiman, turtles, snakes, Golden Tegu Lizard (Salipainter/Matte), Armadillo (Tattoo), Collared Peccary (Quenk) and deer. There’s also a myriad of local butterflies and birds including the Blue Back Mannequin and Copper-rumped Hummingbird.
“We lead the debate by example,” Ian Wright explained. “We’re looking at creating the right habitat to attract more wildlife, birds, bees, bats, butterflies…critters…Every animal has a role in the forest.”
Unfortunately, numbers in the wild have plummeted (mostly a result of ingesting rat poison) for several endemic animals including birds of prey like the Black Hawk and Barn Owl. The rising demand for ‘wild meat’ during the harvest festival has also exacerbated the issue. Another challenge for Roy has been funding during the COVID-19 pandemic: in response, on-site as well as virtual tours are available; and a ‘Fruiting Forest’ with forty-five species of plants, used to feed the animals, is thriving.
The sanctuary has also gained certification as one of Tobago’s one hundred-plus tourism businesses inspected by the Tobago Tourism Agency (TTAL). But the ultimate joy has undoubtedly been having Roy’s son join the team, the next generation of conservationists.
“He’s a great part of the project,” Roy added. “I still can’t say how happy I am – Michael grew up with the animals and he has that passion.”