The 3rd year of the CRC took off like a croc ambushing peccary on a river’s bank! From traveling across country leading and finishing the countrywide Morelet’s crocodile population survey, to deploying the first iridium satellite tracker on an American croc in Belize and in the Central American and Caribbean region, to setting up a mini Wildlife Triage Center to better respond to injured or ill wildlife in southern Belize, to conducting educational outreach in all 6 districts in Belize, the CRC has furthered their mission in research, education and community relationships. Here is a summary of some of this year’s highlights (and these truly are highlights because if we wrote about EVERYTHING it would be a scientific monograph!):
- Morelet’s crocodile countrywide population survey: Leading the 2nd Crocodile Renaissance, the CRC is collaborating with the Belize Forest Department in conducting a countrywide Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) population survey to re-assess the population. The last thorough survey was conducted in the mid-1990s, thus the current population is unknown. As of Jan 26 2019, we have surveyed 95% of the intended locations. The locations that are left are areas in which the American and Morelet’s croc live in sympatry and can be surveyed during the American crocodile population survey, intended to start by May 2019. Thus far we have observed about 1100 Morelet’s crocodiles in Belize. This data will assist the government in formulating the 1st conservation and management program for the Morelet’s crocodile in Belize.
- Investigation of avian health around the Placencia Lagoon: Towards the end of 2016, the CRC team began noticing an epidemic of bird die-offs and observing birds with poor motor skills (could not walk nor fly) while conducting their biodiversity surveys. Thanks to the advice from the Belize Bird Networking Group and in particular the Belize Bird Rescue, the CRC was put in contact with avian experts from the United States Dr. Sheila Scoville and Peter Doherty. Dr. Scoville and Mr. Doherty were eager to assist CRC in our pursuit of deducing the cause(s) affecting the birds. After a 2 month research investigation, the CRC along with Dr. Scoville and Mr Doherty concluded biotoxins from algal blooms were affecting the birds. A paper is currently in review for publication.
- Investigation of American crocodile dispersal patterns and success of rehabilitation program: This past year CRC was given authority by the Belize Forest Department to begin rehabilitating crocs (whether ill, injured, or slightly habituated) so that they could have a second chance living in the wild. With the assistance of reknown crocodile behaviorist expert, and IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group member Flavio Morrissey, the CRC began rehabilitating crocs and prepping them for release back into the wild. To examine our rehabilitation success with adult crocs, in addition to observing the movement of an adult crocodile, the CRC attached the first iridium satellite tracker on a croc in Belize and in this region. The adult American croc, known as TK421, was released in Payne’s Creek in collaboration with our partners at TIDE. The satellite tracker will remain on for about 2 years- we are looking forward to some amazing ecology information, as well as examining our success in croc rehabilitation!
INTERNS, VOLUNTEERS, RESEARCH ASSOCIATES, & STUDENT GROUPS! The CRC welcomes local and international interns, volunteers, and researchers who are eager to build a stronger foundation in their wildlife research skills. In our 3rd year of establishment, the CRC received 14 interns representing 3 different countries (France, United States, and United Kingdom). These interns spent many hours learning about population ecology and how to conduct crocodile surveys during our Morelet’s crocodile population survey excursions, in addition to assisting with other research.
- Joseph Partyka (Master’s Student): Anthropogenic impact on the immune function and host-parasite relationship of the American and Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in Belize
- One of our internship highlights was Jonathan Triminio, our University of Belize
CRC Scholarship Intern. Jonathan interned with the CRC for 8 weeks in which he learned various skills in conducting biodiversity surveys and performing crocodile population surveys, and of course learned how to “talk croc” and assisting us in various outreach activities.
- Additionally, we received various volunteers from our partners at Projects Abroad, as well as zoos such as St. Louisville Zoo, New England Aquarium, Alligator Attractions, and the Miami Zoo.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH The CRC believes that community involvement and outreach is the cornerstone to successful conservation in the region. We successfully led monthly trash pick-ups 1/month to clean up and provide awareness, as well as celebrated Boo at the Zoo and World Croc Day (WDC) at The Belize Zoo. WDC was celebrated on June 16, and included croc talks, games, face-paining, and croc related arts-and-crafts. And CROCtober has become a local Placencia favorite, as we conduct intensive outreach with activities amongst the local schools and businesses.
The CRC had a busy year with community outreach, and we are happy to say we reached our goal in conducting 3 educational outreach events in each district in Belize (specific details, locations, and numbers can be provided upon request). Through these events, as well as our various media outlets, we estimate we reached about 8,000 people in-country this past year.
CALL OF THE WILDE: CRC WILDLIFE TRIAGE The CRC realizes our partners throughout the country may not have the resources to respond to injured, ill, or distressed wildlife in southern Belize. CRC has stepped up to be a resource to the various wildlife organizations and veterinary facilities throughout the country to be a First Responder in regards to wildlife, which includes injured manatee, ill pelicans, orphaned agouti, and a stranded sea turtle. CRC realized the importance of having the equipment to be able to stabilize injured or ill wildlife prior to transporting to the appropriate rehabilitation center. Thus, with the help of a donation from a semi-retired veterinarian in the United States, the CRC established the CRC Wildlife Triage Center in collaboration with the Placencia Humane Society. Together, we intend to provide the necessary first aid care to give wildlife a higher survival rate.
CROCODILE REHABILITATION With the permission of the Belize Forest Department, CRC created the ground work for croc rehabilitation. All injured or ill crocs are first transported to the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic (BWRC) to get the necessary veterinary treatment. Once they get a clean bill of health, crocs can then be transported to the CRC Rehabilitation Facility to further rehabilitation prior to return to the wild. Currently we have 3 rehabilitation enclosures thanks to private donations. This past year CRC rehabilitated 5 crocs to the wild.
SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS Tellez, M. and H. Sung (2018) Unveiling the Host-Parasite Dynamic of Alligators and their Endoparasites. In: American Alligators: Habitats, Behavior, and Threats. S.C. Henke and C. Eversole (Eds.). Nova Science Publishers, New York City, New York, USA.
Tellez, M. and M. Boucher. The Lessons of History and the Future of American Crocodile Conservation in Belize. Herpetological Review 49(3): 492 – 498.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND THANKS FOR 2018! The Crocodile Research Coalition is growing fast, and our 2nd year was full of success! We would like to give a big thank you to all of our supporters, donors and partners as our year would not have been this crocin’ good without you!
- Belize Forest Department
- The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center
- Croc U
- Belize Wildlife Referral and Clinic (BWRC)
- San Diego Zoo
- Projects Abroad
- Fragments of Hope
- Wildlife Institute
- Wildlife Institute
- Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD)
- Augustine Alligator Farm
- Forest and Marine Reserve of Caye Caulker (FAMRACC)
- Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD)
- The Wildlife Discovery Center
- Ocean Academy
- Peninsula International Academy
- Placencia Humane Society
- Tropical Education Center
- Monkey Bay Sanctuary
- Toledo Institute for Conservation and Development (TIDE)
- Fragments of Hope
- Southern Environmental Association (SEA)
- Belize Bird Rescue (BBR)
- Belize Raptor Center (BRC)
- Alligator Adventures
- Jimmy Riffle/Gator Boys
- CrocStar TV
- The KEEP
- Conservation, Food & Health Foundation
- The Phoenix Zoo