This month’s blog entry is written by Veronica Escalante, the Crocodile Research Coalition’s 1st University of Belize CRC Intern Scholar. Veronica interned with us for 7 weeks, assisting us in outreach and all aspects of the Morelet’s crocodile countrywide population survey.
There’s never a dull moment working with the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC). In between the restless nights of work and the long journeys on dirt roads, there’s plenty of time for sing-alongs to the ‘catchy’ radio tunes as we reach our destinations. CRC adventures also incorporate plenty of sightseeing and hands-on experience. As the countrywide survey of Morelet’s crocodile continues the CRC team kicked off the month of July by conducting educational outreach at the Second Annual Animal Health Fair in Spanish Lookout, a farming community in the Cayo District. There were croc talks, fun coloring for the kids, and bubble soccer challenge, a game in which our representative lost but surely enjoyed the rain! That night we headed out to survey one of many lagoons found within the Spanish Lookout area. Due to stormy conditions, not many crocs were seen on this visit, however our last Eyeshine Survey indicated a minimum of 80 crocs in the area.
While conducting surveys in Sittee River later in the month we came across a 4ft Morelet’s crocodile that had an eye missing and was covered in leeches. We managed to successfully remove the leeches off the back, the underside, and the legs of the croc. Those few that were inside the mouth were not removed. In total, 184 leeches were removed and preserved in alcohol to be sent abroad for identification of species. Based on observation of physical structure, we speculate that it could potentially be more than three leech species. A study on leech parasitism in Morelet’s crocodile is underway so for updates or publications, check out the CRC website or Facebook page. This is the first time that the CRC has removed that many leeches from a Morelet’s crocodile, come to think of it, a ‘load of leeches’ was removed off this guy’s back!
Although our main focus is on crocodiles, we do not ignore other animals. Back in Placencia, we received word of an injured pelican and with the assistance of our vet- intern, Marianne Caron, and myself gave it fluids and provided a warm place for the night. The next day we dropped off the pelican at the Belize Bird Rescue located in Roaring Creek, a center that cares for avians. Belize Bird Rescue takes in birds that have been injured or held as illegal pets and rehabilitates them before releasing them back into the wild. A special visit was made to the Belize Zoo to assess a juvenile crocodile that wandered into one of the ponds at the zoo. We took all morphological measurements and tissue samples of the new resident, the new zoo croc named “Speedy” was too comfortable with people and because of this she became a new citizen of the zoo!
We did not go too far from home the following week since the stormy weather prevented the team from surveying Monkey River. While conducting our evening biodiversity surveys in the Placencia Lagoon we came across an area where fishing lines with baited hooks had been deployed. We returned to the area at night to conduct capture surveys and found a juvenile croc whose close proximity to the baited lines put her in danger of becoming by-catch. On the bright side, the juvenile was successfully moved away from the area and safely relocated to a safe location. We have also assessed the reports of two problematic crocodiles in southern Belize. One of them has moved into a fish farm and is feeding off tilapia fish while the other keeps lurking near a home and occasionally feasting on the chickens, clearly both the farm manager and the owner of the chickens are not happy and the CRC is assisting with the relocation of both crocs.
Another educational outreach was conducted for the month of July but it took place at the San Ignacio Welcome Centre and once again the turnout was great! The CRC Research Coordinator, Rigoberto Tzib and myself had a great time disseminating croc facts, met enthusiastic kids that expressed interest in one-day volunteering with the CRC, received reports of crocodile populations found in certain areas of Belize, and enjoyed coloring with kids- crocodiles can be the colors of the rainbow!
On the last week of July, Danni, Rigoberto, the other CRC intern Ronan, and myself packed up the equipment and headed to Corozal District to research crocs in northern Belize. We camped at Wildtracks, a rehab center for manatees that have been injured, orphaned, or confiscated primates that were once illegally held as pets (howler and spider monkeys are endangered and should not be held as pets). We had only finished setting up hammocks and tarps when we started hearing the vibrant calls of howler monkeys. Us knowing that howler monkeys make great meteorologist, we figured that a thunderstorm was heading our way and decided to call it a day. Right on point, it poured for hours and we all decided to take an early night of sleep. That is what we thought at least, but nature proved us wrong, and as the orchestra of cicadas and mosquitos played all the popular hits of the century we were kept awake.
The next day we visited the village of Sarteneja, a fishing community located just a few kilometers away from Chetumal, Mexico. I must say, Sarteneja has the best artists, and the astonishing mural paintings around Sarteneja depict the stronghold connection that people have with the sea. Surveys of the New River were conducted in collaboration with Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD). We spotted a total of 21 Morelet’s crocodiles during our nocturnal eyeshine survey, and had a successful capture. The population of crocs in the New River could potentially be larger, but our eyeshine survey was called off early as we were chased out of the area by a thunder storm. After three days of hard work, the team took time off to explore the cenote located a few meters away from Wildtracks, went for a swim in the turquoise sea, tanned for a while, and explored the hiking trails at Shipstern Conservation and Management Area. Our snake enthusiast, Danni was on the lookout for Fer- de- Lance, I on the other hand was more eager to see legged or winged animals. Never before had I seen so many foxes at once! Words cannot describe the spectacular view one can experience from the watch tower at Shipstern. Lots of colorful birds can be spotted chilling over the vast canopy of the forest, the complete view of the elongated Shipstern Lagoon to the right and the magnificent waters of the Caribbean Sea to the left, stupefy the human mind.
My internship with the CRC has now come to an end but I will forever remain thankful for the amazing opportunity to work with wonderful people and for helping me to conquer my fear of poorly misunderstood creatures, crocodiles rock!
Thank you Veronica for all of your hard work interning with us! We hope you have learned a lot that will assist you in your future endeavors! Croc on!!!