About a month or so ago, I decided I should start winding down with my field research around the 3rd week of July (last week) given I would be 9 months pregnant and past the 37 week mark- aka, the baby could be popping out any day now! As the majority of my life, adventures and great opportunities arise at the last second, and I prayed to the fertility/pregnancy gods to keep my baby cooking in the oven for at least one more week once it was confirmed that a friend and crocodile colleague decided to come down to Belize to assist in some American Crocodile research. Last week,
wildlife expert Shawn Heflick (http://shawnheflick.com/) came to Belize to assist in my research, but mainly to help out my Master’s student Miriam Boucher on catching crocs for her research. Miriam is researching acoustic communication among the American Crocodiles in Belize (at this time on Ambergris Caye), but she is also observing their behavior. Given she wants to tag crocs to better identify individuals, she is in need of catching a lot of crocs… and some big crocs! Shawn and I have been talking for quite awhile about him coming down to Belize and helping me out, but given Miriam’s situation, I thought it would be a great opportunity for Shawn to come down, as well as for Miriam to meet some more crocodile researchers and conservationists.
From the day Shawn set his foot on Ambergris Caye, we were out in the field catching crocs. Oh how I missed that feeling, as the last couple of months I’ve been focusing on collecting non-crocodilian data for the other parts of my research! Granted, I wasn’t wading in the water, or jumping and releasing any crocs (for obvious reasons), but the thrill and adrenaline of eye shining, being a spectator (which still killed me), and doing some of the smaller tasks once a croc was caught was great! People ask what I have been craving during this pregnancy, or what I can’t wait to have or do once the baby is born. Well, the top two: 1) a really good whiskey, and 2) going out into the field and handling crocs again!
As field work goes, you have some good nights and you have some bad nights. Although we didn’t catch as many crocs as Miriam would have liked, the knowledge and new techniques Shawn passed along to us was priceless!!! There are many techniques and/or skills I have learned over the years traveling to other places for croc research that I hadn’t used in Belize, so it was a great refresher for me as Shawn used some of these techniques. However, some of the new techniques as well as equipment Shawn showed us were nothing but amazing and creative, and will greatly enhance catching crocs in the future for our research along with the other techniques we already use- like anything in life, the more tools you have under your belt the better! And the knowledge Shawn had about crocs, and how to deal with crocs prior, during, and after a capture was nothing but amazing… and sometimes shocking (in a good way of course!). I am coming close to 10 years working with crocodilians in captivity and in the field, but still very much feel like a novice at times… so having someone who has been working A LOT with crocodilians 20+ years and internationally was nothing but indescribable.
Shawn’s week here in Belize with Miriam and I was nothing but priceless and an unforgettable experience. He is a true conservationist, and a fantastic mentor/teacher. It’s not about his ego, or how much money he can make, etc., with Shawn- it truly is about the crocs, and I can see his love and passion for also teaching the new or younger generation of croc researchers. A wonderful croc conservationist, and just a wonderful friend to be around in general.
Well, I hope Shawn enjoyed catching crocs in various parts of the island, and sinking in mud, having crocs vomit and piss on him, and getting human sewage on him (that’s another story- only in Belize!). I’m looking forward to working with him again, and hopefully not 38 weeks pregnant! And thanks Shawn for helping out the prego woman when needed!!! Miriam and I are forever grateful to you Shawn- thanks for being such a great Yoda to us young Padawans this past week!!!!
DISCLAIMER: All research and Shawn’s assistance was permitted and approved by the Belize Forest Department (BFD). Thank you to the BFD!