Here is a summary of the Crocodile Research Coalition’s (CRC) adventures in August, written by the CRC’s Research Coordinator Roberto “Bets” Tzib.
There has never been a day without excitement with CRC. This month we have been working across the country conducting several eye shine and capture surveys through the rivers, ponds, canals and other watersheds of Belize, collecting more data for the countrywide Morelet’s crocodile population survey. However, despite all the excitement, there was a time when sadness was experienced- our University of Belize (UB) Intern Veronica Escalante’s CRC internship ended- she was an amazing student and did an exceptional job when it was time to do eye-shine surveys, capture surveys and all things croc! Veronica gave a presentation at UB, covering the importance of protecting crocodiles and preventing extinction while also showcasing her adventures, skills, knowledge and objectives that she had learned while working with the Crocodile Research Coalition for the past several weeks. We are surely going to miss Veronica, but she knows she is always welcome to join the CRC in any future croc adventures!
While continuing our journey days in August, myself and Danni (CRC Program Coordinator) traveled to various areas in Belize District to conduct the Morelet’s population survey. While conducting surveys in the area, our homebase was the Tropical Education Center (TEC) that is located on Mile 29 Western Highway, La Democracia. TEC is a very peaceful environment filled with Mother Nature’s beauty. People get to experience pleasurable singing of birds, foxes running around the compound and breathtaking sceneries of colorful butterflies flying around.
On our way to TEC the first day, we got a call to check a crocodile that was sitting in a pond at Monkey Bay. Danni and myself went to assess the situation and saw a 2ft Morelet’s Crocodile resting at the corner of the pond. Danni tried to capture the little guy to take some data but he kept swimming away, so they decided to try again during nighttime since there would be more possibilities of capturing him.
As night set in, Danni and I started getting our gears ready to capture the little 2ft croc, as well as the rest of the night crocin’. Night fell in quickly so Danni and I made their way to the pond to do a quick eye-shined survey. BAMM!! They spotted the crocodile so Danni made her way slowly towards him and did the capture while Bets started collecting data. After data collection was done, they asked the owners of Monkey Bay to name the crocodile. Since the capture was done around the time tropical storm Harvey was to impact Belize, they decided to name him “Harvey”.
After capturing Harvey, Danni and I made our way to Cox Lagoon to do more captures while being accompanied by Mr. Esquivel, a staff member of Monkey Bay. Paddling down the stream, Danni, Mr. Esquivel, and I got to see a vast amount of crocodiles but they were too big to handle inside the canoe, and since there was no solid ground we decided it was best to be safe (for both us and the crocs!) and not try to capture the larger animals. As a result, they left them behind and kept paddling. Almost nearing the ending of the stream, I managed to capture a little croc. On their way back, the sky was filled with shinning stars, which ended our night with a smile and love for crocodiles.
The following day, Danni and I had traveled to Belize City to meet up with the Belize Defense Force- Special Boats Unit(BDF-SBU) to start our survey at the Sibun River. At 11:30hrs the team launched off the zodiacs from the BDF campsite in Ladyville and made their way through the Belize River and into Bourdon Canal. From there they arrived into the Sibun River and made their way upstream as far as they could. Gracie Rock was as far as the zodiacs could reach farther up they had stones so we didn’t want to risk getting caught.
As night settled in Danni and I checked that all data for air and water temperature and habitat were recorded. When they saw that they could shine across the river with their headlights, they gave the go head to start their surveys. The night was a beautiful one. The breeze was blowing and the stars were shinning bright. Towards the end of the survey the sky got dark, lightning started to strike and the heavy rain began to pour. The team had to call it a night as there was nowhere to shelter and they were not able to find their way through. Luckily, the BDF-SBU commander remembered that there was a bridge at Bourdon Canal so they managed to take shelter there for the night. Around 0330hrs they arrived at the bridge soaking wet and quickly tied the zodiacs so they could rest for a couple hours before leaving in the morning.
Sunday morning everyone was awakened by car noises, chatting cyclists and noisy fishermen. Everyone began sharing stories and jokes of one another as they patiently awaited the night’s arrival to conduct the final survey from Sibun River to Bourdon Canal. At 1710hrs they made their way to the end of Bourdon Canal to start off the surveys. As night began to set in, they checked that all gears were out and ready to use in order to start the eye-shine and capture surveys. 1905hrs was when they started their surveys. The sky was once again shining with bright stars and the breeze blowing all along up to the end. Unfortunately, the rain began to pour so the survey was ended and the team arrived at the BDF campsite at 2345hrs.
The 21st of August became a very sad day for everyone as they expressed their farewells to the Program Coordinator, Danni Brianne, whom was leaving the country. Her enthusiasm and love for animals is just astounding and she will be missed dearly. Despite the sadness, work had to be done so everyone went back to his or her normal routine. On the 24th of August, Miriam Boucher (the new Program Coordinator) and I drove up from Placencia to Belize City and on their way there, we picked up Minerva Gonzales from Forest Department who was going to participate in a capture survey with us that night on the Belize River. When they arrived in Belize City they had to go to the airport to pick up CRC Executive Director, Dr. Marisa Tellez. Where was Dr. Tellez you ask? Well, Dr. Tellez was conducting alligator research in Florida the last few weeks for a project she is collaborating with NASA’s Ecology Team (yes, that’s right- NASA with space ships and rockets!). She had been capturing gators around Kennedy Space Center as well as hitting up other spots in Florida- all the research she is doing in collaboration with a team of international crocodilian experts is intended to assist in the conservation of crocodilians everywhere.
After her arrival the team met with the BDF-SBU to conduct capture surveys. At 1730hrs we managed to move from the BDF camp to Bermuda Landing, and begin their captures. We encountered various clutches of crocodile hatchlings and took GPS points of where we found them so we can look in those areas next year for nests. Our night ended at 0520hrs after several captures… which included Minerva illustrating her skill on how to capture crocs while someone is holding on to you so you don’t fall off the boat.
Rain or shine, it’s croc time for the CRC, and we are looking forward to September as we wrap up some locations for our Morelet’s Survey, as well as welcome a new intern from France!