The Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) started April with one of their favorite projects- Next Gen Croc! We headed to Caye Caulker to conduct our nocturnal eyeshine surveys with the students from Ocean Academy, as well as joined the students for an Outreach Internship and Mentorship Day. We were absolutely impressed with our students Annabella and Mathew as they educated students on the island, as well as any community members and tourists about the American crocodiles on Caye Caulker. And thanks to them, we have a large group of students of all ages looking for their chance to become a Jr. Crocodile Expert via our Next Gen Croc program! (http://www.crocodileresearchcoalition.org/portfolio/student-led-population-survey-caye-caulker/)
April 23rd-25th Danni and Blakely travelled to Orange Walk to train and collaborate with Forest Department in population surveys of the Morelet’s crocodile. They conducted habitat, eyeshine, and capture surveys at Doubloon Bank Lagoon, they saw a total of 41 crocs which suggests a population increase at that location in comparison to the survey conducted in the 90’s. They caught a total of five crocs with the largest at 8.3ft and the smallest a small yearling.Blakely had the opportunity to get some capture training on the second night and did an amazing job. While in Orange Walk our plans did not go as smoothly as hoped. They could not reach Button Lagoon for surveys, and on an attempt to do so they found a poached croc who was missing the tail. There was a basic necropsy performed in the field to determine the cause of death. On their way home they had another sad discovery as someone had run over another croc.
In the last week of April, the CRC received reports of 5 crocs (3 Morelet’s crocs, others unidentified) poached, or killed crossing the road. We are in the midst of the breeding season for the Morelet’s crocodiles, and these crocodile species are known to travel far distances on land from one water source to another. Crocodiles are not the only wildlife recently killed by road traffic- there has also been reports of tapir and snake (and we have heard the occasional tamandua and ocelot). Wildlife road signs are rare here in Belize; however we are hoping to change that soon. At the World Croc Day event at The Belize Zoo on June 17, funds raised will go towards creating wildlife educational signs for various areas in Belize. Similar to other croc-inhabited regions in the world, we hope such signs will provide education and awareness to those on the road.
Besides the croc killings, we have received various messages and phone calls in regards to the heighten croc sightings throughout the country (correlated to the breeding and nesting season of the two crocodile species). Many look to relocation as an immediate and long-term solution; but as many croc experts will tell you relocations, especially less than 10 miles down the road, are a waste of time and resources. Unless you relocate the animal to prime habitat, the croc will relocate back (and there is a lot of research that proves that!). The media has been an issue in creating the false beliefs and misguided information about co-existing with crocodiles; Dr. Tellez of the CRC sent an editorial piece to various news sources (such as the Placencia Breeze: https://issuu.com/theplacenciabreeze/docs/placencia_breeze_may_2017) throughout the country asking them for the assistance in promoting co-existence, and not to sensationalize or villianize crocodiles and other predators.
“My name is Dr. Marisa Tellez, the co-founder of the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) based on the Placencia Peninsula. I am also the Vice Regional Chair of Latin America for the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission-Crocodile Specialist Group (IUCN/SSC-CSG; http://www.iucncsg.org). In short, I’m part of an international group of crocodile experts that consults national and international protection and trade laws with crocs utilizing science as a basis to implement the most appropriate management plans while simultaneously decreasing human-crocodile conflict and conducting educational outreach.
I am writing this article not just as a scientist, or conservationist; I am writing this article on behalf of various concerned community members in Belize who have reached out to me regarding the false beliefs and misguided information about our crocodiles, and we are asking the media to help us in building co-existence not just of crocodiles, but all wildlife here in Belize.
Undoubtedly, fear about these reptiles has grown due to a lack of understanding, combined with sensational publicity in the local media. Some of this we can credit to unrealistic views of crocodiles and alligators shown on television and in the movies. Social media has also played a negative role in positioning crocodiles as bad, unnecessary, and forever dangerous.
Crocodiles, as any apex predator, play a vital role in the healthy balance of our environment. Are fish populations important to Belize? Confirmed scientific studies conclude that without crocodiles, for example, fish communities decline and become severely damaged. Understanding the crocodile and learning to co-exist with this charismatic and important species should be a proud part of the environmental profile here in Belize.
In Belize we have two species of crocodiles, the American Crocodile and Morelet’s crocodile, and I state here today that they are NOT man-eaters! Historically, crocodile attacks are low in Belize compared to other areas in Mesoamerica (check out CrocBite, www.crocodile-attack.info). There are communities throughout this region and throughout the world that co-exist with these animals with attacks rarely recorded. Crocs walk across the street minding their own business- NO ONE is hurt.
However, here is a warning: if anyone has fed, harassed or handled a crocodile, then that animal WILL become a problematic croc. RESPECT. DON’T HARRASS. At this time, there is a strong ongoing campaign aimed at educating tour guides (as well as the general public) NOT to handle or feed wildlife. This will help ensure that problem animals are not created.
Many tour guides have become champions in their communities by no longer feeding or handling wildlife, and educating members of their communities and visitors alike to respect nature. Kudos to these Wildlife Heroes! They are making a positive impact in Belize, amongst the other wildlife enthusiasts who see the importance of nature for the success of our own livelihood.
More positive crocodile news is coming up for Belize. The CRC will be joining scientists, zoos and other croc enthusiastic communities and organizations across the globe for the 1st ever WORLD CROC DAY, and this event will be celebrated with our friends at The Belize Zoo in June. This fun and educational event is going to succeed in further raising awareness about these unique creatures of Belize, squashing any false myths and educating the public on the scientific facts, particularly the facts of co-existence.
Want to talk more croc? Do not hesitate to contact the Crocodile Research Coalition (www.crocodileresearchcoalition.org) or head to our Facebook Page!
Dr. Marisa Tellez”