11:55pm- My research assistants/friends and I board a red-eye flight to head over to our crocodile research destination… Belize. After a year I’m heading back to Belize to collect some crocodile tissue and parasite samples for a side study I’ve been working on since 2010. No, this is not part of my dissertation, but a study that I am hoping will make a difference in the fight for Belize environmentalism and conservation of its habitat and wildlife. Ever since I came to Belize in 2008 working with ACES on crocodiles, Belize became a part of my life. It is a goal in my life to make a positive difference here. In summary, I am hoping my analyses of parasites and crocs prove to be good bioindicators of heavy metal pollution in the environment, providing the Belize Forest and Wildlife Department information to take positive action towards the land in which they live. And of course, I always like reaching out to locals to educate and help with lessening the negativity towards crocodilians and help with the croc-human conflict.
So after several hours of airflights and airports (I’m on a grant so whatever the cheapest flight was, no matter how many layovers and flights, I got to take it!) we finally get to Belize. I didn’t want to waste anytime. Even though there was a lack of sleep, the adrenaline of getting to Belize and getting my hands on crocs was like having an I.V. of espresso hooked up into me. We literally got to our hostel on Ambergris Caye, changed, and headed out towards the southern part of the island. Within 15 minutes being in our spot at WASA Lagoon, we caught a croc!!!! I don’t think I’ve ever had the luck of catching a croc so quickly here on the island- it had to be a late St. Paddy’s Day present to me. Once we had the 10ft croc wrangled up, Vince asked “Whose going to jump on this croc?” “Me, me!!” I’ve been waiting for this day for a year! Catching and jumping on crocs is like riding a bike now- and jumping on that 10 footer was an exhilarating experience!
So, what do I do with these crocs? I stomach flush them for their parasites. Now, according to eco-parasitology, and other ecology studies, a healthy environment is one with parasites. So, less parasites, particularly with an apex predator IS A MAJOR INDICATOR THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE ENVIRONMENT!!!!! And so far, that’s what I’m finding. And my findings are correlating with some water heavy metal testing in some of my study areas. However, I can’t make any more conclusions until I do the heavy metal analyses of the parasites and crocs scutes with Mark Merchant at McNeese University.
So my first night here was a MAJOR success as we caught 3 crocs within a short period in time in an area where the croc population is dwindling rapidly due to expats coming in and destroying all the croc habitat (not to mention other wildlife habitat). Thankfully, ACES (Cherie and Vince Rose) are really fighting for preserving wildlife and saving the habitat. Its going to take time, but we just have to keep fighting to make a difference.
So the luck of the Irish really came in the first night we were on Ambergris, but we got skunked last night. We even went to the sewage plant to catch crocs as a lot of the crocs use the sewage plant as a sanctuary from being poached and bothered!!!! Yep, we were getting our hands dirty last night- literally full of crap. No luck, but with the crew I am with, it was an amazing day/night.