For the past 3 years, my Easters have consisted of croc research and this year was no different. But this year croc’s research was a bit more special as the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) initiated a program to inspire the younger generation of wildlife conservationists and enthusiasts.
Handling several pieces of equipment and supplies in one hand, and a squiggly 8 month old child in another, I headed off to Caye Caulker to perform a population survey of the American crocodile in collaboration with FAMRACC, with special intern guests from the local high school, Ocean Academy. This was a 3 day study, which consisted of one nocturnal survey and capture session in the interior part of the island with a golf cart, 1 night of capture and tagging around the island, and one night of nocturnal eyeshine survey. The methods we were following were formalized by crocodile specialists from the IUCN-Crocodile Specialist Group, in particular, to perform nationwide Morelet’s survey. The survey methods can be implemented for any species of crocs, and given the methodical details outlined by these methods, we decided to use the Morelet’s survey template for the survey of American crocs.
So the first night we rented a golf cart and surveyed the southern part of Caye Caulker.
Great easy night, with a few captures after nocturnal surveying. One croc we caught we named Kendal, after an amazing young girl from Illinois who donated her bake-good earnings to the CRC. BUT I soon realized a curse was upon our equipment. Our smaller spotlight died, and my headlamp died, then our brand new spotlight that is suppose to last 20hrs decided to die. Luckily all this malfunctioning happened towards the end of this nights survey, but made the other nights very interesting needless to say…
Night 2 was capture and tag night around the island. Boat captain was the always entertaining Mr. Tony from FAMRACC. And for whatever reason, this was the night of
belly crawling- for me catching crocs! A lot of crocs were low in the mangrove, and how they were situated in the mangrove, the best maneuver to continue to blind them was to belly crawl. For the majority of crocs I went after that night, that’s what I did! And I finally broke a curse- I seriously have been butter fingers catching crocs since January, but finally hand grabbed a croc- yes!!!! But with all the fun and excitement, my colleague Miriam and I did have a scare. As we were coming out of a mangrove cove after chasing a smaller croc, I noticed a huge eyeshine right behind her… a 10ft croc in open water was just staring at her about 10ft away from her. The croc’s behavior was not “normal” from my experience observing American crocs in Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. With all the noise, this croc should have hid in the mangrove, but his stance and behavior… this croc had been fed by humans! Luckily both Miriam and I were by the boat and we FLEW onto the boat – with our noise the croc fled and we did not see it again. Unfortunately, we do know of someone feeding crocs in this area, and this croc proved how feeding decrease crocs fear of humans.
Night 3- the night I was looking forward to as this was the night we had local high school students join us in a nocturnal population survey. The day before we met with the students to go over the biology of crocs, as well as the methods of the survey. They learned so quick and did an excellent job the night of the survey. Amazing how they retained all the croc info, and they performed the survey with perfection. Our (the CRC) hope is that these kids will give crocodile night excursions for tourists and locals – some proceeds will go towards the CRC and FAMRACC, but the majority goes to paying off the kid’s tuition to ensure they continue school. And of course, throughout this process they will develop their leadership, communication and scientific skills. And once a month they will perform a croc survey- the data they collect will go towards assisting the CRC and the Belize Forest Department in managing the crocodile population on Caye Caulker. And in this process, the kids will learn how to analyze the data and write a scientific report.
Due to technical difficulties, our last night was cut short so we will have to head to Caye Caulker 1 more day to finish off the survey as I had to head back to Placencia. Overall, we found a decent population of juveniles and subadults on Caye Caulker which supports the theory of a stable crocodile population. Hopefully our return trip we will see and catch a few more adults.
So great trip, and another great Easter with a load of croc! And at least Mr. Tony didn’t get stabbed by a needlefish again (a needlefish literally jumped out of the boat last time in Caye Caulker and stabbed him in the arm! Something we continue to laugh about months later!).