This month’s entry is co-written by Research Coordinator Miriam Boucher, and Executive Director Dr. Marisa Tellez.
February is known for the month of love, and it truly seemed Cupid made a few more croc-lovin’ arrows this year, and maybe he knew it was a busy month for the CRC in outreach??? Education is a powerful tool in building the bridge of co-existence between nature and people, and during the Placencia Sidewalk Arts Festival, the CRC, The Belize Zoo, and the Belize Raptor Center teamed up to educate passerby’s of Belize’s magnificent predators. It was all about the power of knowledge in this corner, highlighting that proper knowledge of the environment around us always ensures a greater protection to our most beloved species. The Belize Zoo enlightened us all on the morphological characteristics of the country´s most emblematic species, and people learned why raptors are important for our ecosystem, squashing any false beliefs about them in discussion with the crew from Belize Raptor Center (such as Barn Owls DO NOT bring about death to ones family. Absolute myth!). The CRC crocodile corner of the booth was always approached with amusement and respect for this enigmatic species. Many kids around the village had already heard of the CRC and their curiosity was already awakened as they approached the booth. The diet guessing game is always a hit with kids! You put your hand into a crocodile “stomach,” full of “parasites” and dissolved prey items (aka, chow mein), and you feel for a prey item. This is a fun, and gross, way kids have learned about the diet of crocs her in Belize. And as gross as it is, they always come back for more!
The following weekend, the CRC crew headed to Caye Caulker to meet up with our second generation of Next Gen Croc students from Ocean Academy as they participated in their school’s Ubuntu Day event, a showcase the people and projects they work on as part of their club and internship participation. Our Next Gen Croc students organized materials to showcase the CRC and the knowledge they have gained about crocodiles and their ecology. The student’s engaged younger students from their school, and the public, with a self-made slideshow about crocodile biology and ecology, a crocodile stomach simulation to teach about diet, and a crocodile measurement game. Students also hand-made tie dyed CRC bookmarks to hand out as prizes at the event. Not only did they wow us and bring some tears to our eyes with their amazing effort, they impressed visiting Belize Forest Department officers with their presentation and extensive crocodile knowledge. We couldn’t have been more proud of this amazing group and are looking forward to more amazing work from them!
In addition to our outreach work we also had the pleasure of hosting two visiting scientists from the US., Dr. Sheila Scoville and Peter Doherty. Peter is an avian expert who has worked around the world capturing birds for various research projects, and Sheila is currently a professor at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in the Department of Pathology and Anatomy, which includes a background in investigating the effects of environmental contamination on avian health. Throughout February they trapped birds in the Placencia Lagoon area to collect blood samples, feathers, and parasites to assess the health of birds in the area in relation to the dead birds and distressed birds the CRC has found over the past year. We are looking forward to being able to report about the diversity, condition, and health of birds in the area, and pinpoint the culprit that is causing epidemic mortalities of the resident and migratory avian community around the Placencia Lagoon.
Finally, we could all feel the love of our resident Morelet’s croc, Rick (Stark) as he headed into his new permanent enclosure. Rescued by the Placencia Police Department, Rick has moved from a temporary holding pen to a complete outdoor enclosure. We have watched him over the past three months recover from being a sickly and emaciated croc (due to poor husbandry) to being a spunky, attitude filled croc. His curved spine, and severed emaciation are indicative of being poorly kept as a pet, and his complete lack of wariness towards people make his release back to the wild an impossibility. So, with the vast knowledge of our colleagues at Croc Manor (Shawn Heflick), Rob Carmichael (Wildlife Discovery Center), St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Dallas World Aquarium, and the strong arms of the Projects Abroad volunteers as well as many others, we built a large enclosure for Rick. He is thoroughly enjoying his new digs with plenty of space to swim, sun, and get out of the elements. Check out his smile!
With all the outreach, and all the interactions we have had with communities and colleagues locally and internationally, we can definitely say Cupid was spreading the love of crocs near and far- and that’s a huge leap in building the bridge of co-existence.