“Rachel McWilliam was part of the CRC Intern Apprenticeship program for one month mid-2019. Like most internship experiences, Rachel’s experience to various parts of the country, wading through mangrove and mud for surveys, and conducting community outreach. Find out more about her experiences in the following testimonial.”
It is hard to find the words to express the incredible experience that I had as an intern at the CRC, and I was only there for one month! Every single person I met were incredible people, from those in the organization (Marisa, Darcy, Karl, Maia, Jonathan, and Kessel and Jyn – the family dogs), to my fellow hatchling house roomies (Felix and Tara), and all the people of Belize. I enjoyed every second I got to spend with them. They were all a blast to be around everyday, and they made every moment fun (even when you’re getting destroyed by mosquitoes and sweating buckets). If the circumstances allowed for it, I would have stayed for as long as I possibly could.
I came into the program with a background in basic crocodilian handling/capture, but I was lacking any real research experience and needed to learn and gain a lot of research techniques that would help me for my future goal of crocodilian studies. The experience and techniques Marisa taught and exposed me to were above and beyond what I was expecting. I was hoping to learn some research techniques focused on crocodilians, of which I learned plenty, but the scope of everything I got to experience and learn about was also so much broader than just one animal order or focus. I think it was my second day that Marisa picked me up early in the morning, and the next thing I knew I was watching drone footage to identify manatees within the Placencia Lagoon. A week or two after that, and she even gave me a hands on tutorial on how to operate the (very expensive!) drone manually. I got to experience and learn about so many different types of flora and fauna, and the individual research techniques that were applicable. I’m still so excited about the moment we were doing a biodiversity survey by kayak, and a big fuzzy manatee nose surfaced right near us, and I cannot believe I got the chance to see Charlie, their local 12ft. American croc just swimming casually away from us. Besides manatees and crocodiles, I got to see so many incredible animals like iguanas, basilisks, coati, yellow-headed parrots, red-tailed boas, agouti (which I dumbly thought was a baby capybara!), and countless more.
The organization that Marisa has created in such a short time span does so much incredible work for the conservation of all types of wildlife, not just crocodiles, and it is so far-reaching across the entire country. In just my short time there I got to travel up and down the Placencia peninsula, visited The Belize Zoo, took a boat trip to a beautiful caye, saw the shoreline of Mexico, and I even had the amazing experience to help conduct nocturnal eyeshine surveys in more remote parts of northern Belize. Camping on a beach removed from the general population to observe crocodiles in the mangroves at night, as well as doing multiple eyeshine surveys on the Sittee River are experiences I will never forget and will certainly be hard to top.
Most incredible to me was how involved Marisa has gotten the locals and the community to be an active part of the coalition, through programs working with kids and reeducating many people who have been misinformed about the true nature of the crocs they are living with. Now instead of fearing the animals, so many locals and expats alike seem to be actively wanting to help with the organization’s conservation mission, and many volunteer their time and resources to do so. There were so many times when we were driving the truck with the CRC logo through town, and people would yell excitedly for the “Croc Lady” (AKA Marisa), and want to see if there was a live croc in the back. As Marisa says, a vital part of conservation is working with people, not just the animals, and if you don’t involve the community then any conservation efforts will fall short in the long run. This CRC definitely gets this right in every regard, and it was an incredible experience to briefly be a part of such a well-run, and what will clearly be a long established organization that will undoubtedly continue to expand. I would highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in wildlife, crocodilians, conservation, biodiversity, community outreach, education, and a million other areas, because you really do get to learn and experience it all, all while having a great time 🙂