This month’s blog entry is written by Rachel Clulee, a recent graduate of Solihull College and University Centre / Oxford Brookes University, who collaborated with the CRC in regards to her undergraduate BSc thesis titled “Improving Crocodile Conservation in Belize through Education.” Rachel Clulee is from Birmingham, England, and her passion for crocodiles was been apparent from a young age. In 2016, Rachel attended the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group 24th Work Meeting where she networked with crocodile conservationists from around the world, inspiring her to pursue research in regards to human-crocodile conflict for her undergrad thesis. She coordinated with the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) as the CRC is conducting an ethnozoology project, collecting data on public perception of crocodiles in Belize. The purpose of the CRC survey is to gather current knowledge in law, conservation and personal opinions regarding the crocodiles from various members of communities throughout the country so that the CRC can move forward in taking the most appropriate steps of conservation through education.
Summary of Abstract/Introduction of thesis: Objectively, this study will explore the current education and conservation work, and the laws and regulations about crocodiles in Belize. Questionnaires will be used to gather public views and knowledge on the following components: 1) crocodile significance in the ecosystem 2) personal opinions, 3) wildlife laws, 4) ideas of crocodile conservation, 5) human-crocodile conflict, 6) how crocodile conservation can have effects on themselves and the community. Results will be compared and correlated amongst different age groups, gender and educational background. The questionnaire will also explore personal opinions, along with the influences that can create human-crocodile conflict, which can provide information to reviewers on the most appropriate action and educational outreach program and material to implement to differing communities. The data from this study can further supplement conservation efforts by improving educational outreach about crocodiles, and providing significant information to government agencies that can assist in their pursuit of dispersing educational material and enforcing laws in regards to crocodiles to further promote co-existence.”
In summary, my results have shown that around half of the participants surveyed recognise the benefits that crocodiles have to the community; including ecotourism and benefits to the ecosystem. However, there is not much recognition or knowledge for the laws about crocodiles and there are concerns for community safety due to misguided information or false facts about the animals that have been created over the years (such as due to the sensationalization of local media or social media portraying these creatures as pests or “man-eaters” needed of relocation if near human settlement, i.e, no space for co-existence). This illustrates that there is a gap in knowledge of how to co-exist with crocodiles. Education is the best way to teach co-existence with crocodiles to both residents of and tourists visiting Belize. Statistical analysis concluded no significant relationship between ages of participants and whether they thought that there is a problem with crocodiles in their area, therefore educational materials should be distributed to venues that cover all age groups, including:
– Community Centres
– Hotels and Hostels
– Local Shops
– Restaurants and Bars
– Information Centres
– Airports and Cruise Ships
I suggested at the end of my thesis that educational materials can be designed for both tourists and residents of Belize as two different focus groups:
– Tourists – Flyers and posters
– Residents to Belize – Living alongside Crocodiles Guide
Information on these educational materials should include:
– Contact details of who to call if there is a problem crocodile or if anyone is seen breaking the law – for safety and reassurance
– Enforcing laws in regards to illegal feeding in order to minimise habituating crocodiles to humans
– Provide information about physiological, biological and ecological facts about crocodiles place. This aims to gain further interest from the public, so they acknowledge crocodiles as keystone species to the environment and are encouraged to learn how to co-exist.
It is important that everybody learns how to co-exist with crocodiles so that they can be recognised in the developing ecotourism economy, as well as to ensure the future conservation of the species.
I have really enjoyed analysing this data and contributing to conservation research.
Thank you CRC for this amazing research opportunity!