Morning wake-up call: the scarlet macaws are chattering as the sun rises. The FCD rangers have an early morning as they will be hiking more than half the day to survey this area of Chiquibul. As the day passes in camp, I arrange the gear for tonight’s second nocturnal survey downstream. Because we are in canoes, we can only survey so much area. So last night we survey 4km upstream of our camp- tonight we will survey 4km downstream. But prior to the surveys, Shawn and I headed out to catch a croc to bring back to camp to give the FCD rangers a proper croc training and educational session.
We spotted a juvenile relatively close to camp. I was in the front to catch, but as we came up close I realized something… this croc was a bit too big for me to hand grab with one hand. I’ve got small hands, and as some people have mentioned, FREAKISHLY small hands! So I have to be smart on the size of crocs that I can safely hand grab. In a couple of seconds I realized this hand grab was not a smart thing to do because 1) the neck looked a bit too big for my tiny hands, and 2) I would be hand grabbing a pretty big croc for me with my left hand which is not my dominant hand. So I backed off, and simply told Shawn the croc was too big for me to grab with one hand given my angle. Luckily, the croc didn’t get away too far and Shawn was able to catch it.
Upon our return to camp we gave a good 30 minute educational session to the FCD rangers, which included how to collect data measurements. For the rangers, it was their first time holding a crocodile. So many questions, such enthusiasm- these rangers are going to do a great job monitoring and assisting in the conservation of these crocodiles in Chiquibul Forest. After we released the croc, it was time to perform the nocturnal eyeshine survey downstream. Within a couple of minutes we came across a Fer-de-lance swimming across the river- my first sighting in the wild! So excited, but I soon learned that they are attracted to the light as once it spotted us, it came swimming towards our canoe a bit. All lights out – complete darkness to ensure that this venomous snake didn’t get too close to us.
Downstream we observed larger crocodiles, and many came right next to our canoe. One of them turned towards us as if it was going to jump in the canoe, which definitely gave everyone an adrenaline rush. Only once have I had a crocodilian “threaten” me by trying to jump in my boat, and that was in Florida when a female alligator did not like us getting too close to her nest. I knew that this area of the river was going to be the adrenaline rush for the next night.
Day 3 in Chiquibul- lots of crocs and other critters, and lots of ticks! At night I was busy doing research, and during the day I was busy pulling of ticks. By Day 3 I lost count how many ticks I pulled off my body- the biggest and most difficult one to pull off was of course on my butt. Thank goodness for yoga as I had to twist and bend to pull that one off!
Night quickly falls upon us, and its time to go catch crocs! We are in 2 teams as not everyone in camp can fit in the 2 canoes. First team will head upstream first, and the second team will go downstream later. We see many crocs, and of course the night we want to catch them to tag them for our survey none of them want to come out. The other night we were able to get right next to them, and tonight it’s as if they know we want to catch them. After grabbing a juvenile and moving further upstream I hear a huge splash ahead near Shawn’s canoe. A split second I thought they caught a big croc, but then a light shines on an animal in the middle of the river- a TAPIR!!!! And there is a tapir on land not too far from shore. We had seen tapir tracks all over the campsite and now to see this majestic animal in the wild- I felt absolutely lucky!
You know the Benny Hill song, where maybe there are some people running all over the place like a chicken with no head??? Well that’s how I started feeling chasing these crocs in a canoe. So close and if we had a boat we would definitely be catching them- but we were having fun and the rangers were getting an experience… but all I could think about was that damn Benny Hill song.
Second group up- we went from about 9:30pm-2am. I hadn’t caught a croc yet and was determined to catch one. And then my moment came… my driver put me in the perfect position to snare a 7ft adult croc. He steered me towards the shore. However, the shore was so steep. As Shawn’s canoe came up I simply asked Shawn, “So how are we going to do this, where are we going to measure the croc, etc.” Shawn looked at me, looked at the shore and said, “we are going to do the data collection in the canoe.” I looked at Shawn, thought about his 25 years of experience, shrugged my shoulders and said, “OK.” Then the rest of the canoe participants started to speak, as they were not as enthusiastic to have an adult crocodile on the canoe. Shawn and I kind of smirked, and began the data collection process. Everything went completely smooth. Several months ago I learned about the Zen Method- keep calm and the animal will keep calm is basically it. None of us shouted, our voices were calm, no one else spoke except for Shawn and I and the data collection was flawless.
We had no luck catching a croc after the adult, but was very close (again, if we had a boat it would have been soooo different). On our way back to camp I caught some eyeshines on shore in the bushes. Then some other people noticed the eyeshines- Margay!!!! Margay about 75 meters from basecamp! So amazing! Even though we didn’t catch as many crocs as we would have liked, the amount of wildlife I saw that night made up for it!
Morning comes too soon- I’ve had maybe about 2 hours of sleep as Boris from FCD and principal ranger wanted us to get an early start in the morning to head back into the real world. This time, it was my turn to paddle out of Chiquibul with equipment. I was lucky- a nice cloudy and cool morning. I thought this would be a good indicator of me surviving La Ruta Maya. In 2 1/2 hours I paddled about 20 kms out of Chiquibul Forest. I saw a completely different side of Chiquibul- a lot more wildlife, a lot more topography. Absolutely gorgeous and stunning. There was some heavy headwind, but I paddled as if I was in La Ruta Maya. When I grouped back with those that hiked, Shawn gives me a smirk
and asking me if we hit the rain. “What rain? We had no rain.” His smirk falls- apparently it rained on the hikers so he got soaked. I definitely owe him or karma is going to bit me in the butt hard!
Chiquibul Forest was an amazing experience, and plans for a more thorough survey with a functional boat is already on the drawing board. Can’t wait to head back to this majestic forest and further the conservation of the Morelet’s crocodile in this region.