The Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) was officially established on January 26, 2016 by Dr. Marisa Tellez and Karl Kohlman. The community throughout the Placencia Peninsula welcomed the CRC with open arms to our mission, establishing fervor support amongst community members as well as strong partnerships with the Placencia based environmental organizations the Southern Environmental Association (SEA), Fragments of Hope (FoH) and Projects Abroad. Our mission and research reached out throughout various locations in Belize, establishing strong ties amongst several organizations in addition to the Belize Forest Department that led to our first year that can only be described as a crocin’ success! Here are some of the top highlights of the past 1st year of the CRC:
Next Gen Croc: A youth program created in collaboration with FAMRACC and Ocean Academy on Caye Caulker to foster the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts, providing leadership and scientific mentorship to participating students and simultaneously building a crocodile conservation management program: (We are currently in the process of creating Next Gen Croc in Placencia that includes monthly youth wildlife outings).
- Population Survey of Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) in Chiquibul Forest: This survey was conducted in collaboration with Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) to assess this unique population of crocodiles. A manuscript is currently underway illustrating a healthy population of crocodiles that may be the only genetically pure population of Morelet’s throughout the country. The CRC provided their expertise with the assistance of colleague Shawn Heflick to provide training to FCD rangers to establish a local crocodile monitoring and conservation program (http://www.crocodileresearchcoalition.org/portfolio/population-survey-of-the-morelets-crocodile-in-chiquibul-forest-belize/)
- Population Survey of the American Crocodile on Caye Caulker: The CRC’s first published scientific manuscript (entitled “Population Status of the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in Caye Caulker, Belize) discussed the recovery of the American crocodile population from past exploitation. Human-crocodile conflict is almost non-existent on this caye, likely a result of crocodiles seeking refuge in the reserve in the northern part of the caye, and as a result of local environmental groups (such as Forest and Marine Reserve Association of Caye Caulker (FAMRACC)) educating the local community on the ability to co-exist with wildlife. However, habitat loss and pollution threaten the viability of this population.
Biodiversity surveys utilizing parasites as bioindicators of local biodiversity of the free-living community in conjunction to monitoring the degradation or restoration of habitat on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker continued as this project will be a long-term monitoring project (10-20 years). Every five years updated data will be published. This will allow the CRC and Dr. Tellez to monitor the change in biodiversity overtime on the two cayes.
- Currently the CRC is assisting two Master’s students who are working on their research here in Belize. Miriam Boucher, a Master’s student at West Virginia University, has been investigating the acoustics and behavior of American crocodiles in Belize. Using specialized recording equipment, she is building an acoustic profile of American crocodiles and analyzing distress call production across a gradient of human environmental disturbance. She is also compiling behavioral data comparing time-activity budgets and behavioral trends between locations of differing environmental disturbance. Miriam is working to better understand the impacts of human development and contact on crocodile acoustics and behavior and explore new avenues for applied management using acoustics. The second Master’s student, Blakely Rice, is pursuing a degree in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation with the intention of bringing the two fields together to work on human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade, poaching and resource exploitation.
The CRC is preparing for several future PhD and Master’s students investigating eco- toxicology, genetics, hybridization, parasitology, human-crocodile conflict, and more.
- The month of October is often known as “Croctober” for those who work with crocs.
Croctober is a special month in which educational outreach is doubled as we celebrate the amazing animals we work with and love. Croctober 2016 was no exception, the CRC used our social media to post daily croc facts, and visited schools weekly to educate the next generation on crocs. One of our US CRC representative’s Danni Brianne represented the CRC at Croctober at the Wildlife Discovery Center in Illinois, which the curator Rob Carmichael invited us to attend. The Wildlife Discovery Center graciously donated a portion of their Croctober proceeds to the CRC.
- The CRC has been collaborating with SEA and Project Abroad, performing monthly trash pick-ups. This initiative involves not only local organizations, but also the community, in hopes that we can reduce the amount of waste on our beaches.
- The Crocodile Research Coalition has taken on a huge initiative for 2017. In recent years there have been increasing reports of human–crocodile conflict among the freshwater habitats of Belize, fueling a belief that there may have been a rise in the Morelet’s crocodile population that inhabit that ecosystem. By request of the Belize Forest Department (BFD), the Crocodile Research Coalition is leading a nationwide population survey of this species so that the BFD can have the accurate data to develop the appropriate management plan. The last population survey for the Morelet’s crocodile was approximately twenty years ago, the main area of focus was in the northern portion of Belize.The nationwide survey commenced with a workshop held at the Tropical Education Center in Belmopan on December 9th, 2016. At the workshop, our partners learned about basic crocodile facts, the history of crocodile conservation in Belize, and the methods we will use for the population survey that aligns with the Tri-Country agreement among Belize, Guatemala and Mexico to conduct surveys of C. moreletii.
In May of 2016 the CRC attended the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group meeting in South Africa, and presented at Congress of the MesoAmerican Society for Biology and Conservation. Dr. Marisa Tellez presented on the CRC’s Next Gen Croc Program at the CSG meeting in South Africa and Karl Kohlman presented at the MesoAmerican conference on the biodiversity work the CRC has been conducting on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.
- We were honored to host Our World Underwater Scholarship Society scholar Chris Millbern. Chris Milbern was part of Dr. Marisa Tellez’s original “Army” of student researchers during her PhD career dissecting alligators for parasites. Chosen scholars work with leaders in the fields of conservation, dive industry operations, marine biology, underwater photography, archaeology, dive medicine, and more.
- Dr. Tellez headed to Kennedy Space Center at the beginning of November to meet up with an elite team of crocodilian scientists gathered by the NASA Ecology Team to assess how shuttle launches and climate change were affecting ecosystems utilizing alligators as sentinel species. She will be using her expertise in crocodilian parasitology to assist her colleagues in investigating environmental fluctuation over the next few years.
- Out of several “problematic croc” calls we received in the past year we removed one, and we contribute this to successful educational outreach. Out of fear or misguided information, many people see a croc and automatically assume it is an issue when typically the animal is just being a croc or passing through an area. These animals have received an unfair and often negative image that they simply do not deserve. True problem crocs are often caused by direct and indirect feeding or when they are constantly handled or harassed. When left alone, the two species here in Belize are often shy and stay away from humans. The one croc we removed was actually not a problem animal at all–it simply took up residence in a one acre pool that seemed like good habitat.
- Locally, we have been busy with our crocodile population survey of the Placencia
Lagoon, in addition to conducting weekly crocodile behavior observations to begin identifying temporal movement and behavior of American and Morelet’s crocodiles
- Featured in several national and international TV shows and newspapers. Over the past year the CRC has been featured on The Morning show in Belize, as well as many Belizean newspapers such as the Placencia Breeze and The Reporter. The CRC has even been featured internationally on a German wildlife show known as Terra X.
- The CRC has partnered up with University of Belize to provide one Belizean student an opportunity to participate in a 7-10 week research intense program to build on their skills in wildlife research, but most importantly, how to then implement the scientific research into wildlife policy and management (= translational ecology). It is anticipated that all projects performed will provide important and applicable information to the Forest Department in their wildlife management policies, and lead to scientific publication.
So, what does 2017 look like for 2017? Well, we commenced with our Belize Nationwide Morelet’s Crocodile Population Survey (which will take up a majority of 2017), in addition to all the other research and outreach programs. Needless to say the first year of the CRC has been busy but absolutely successful! We look forward to a crocin’ year in 2017 and sharing our adventures with all of our supporters!
A big crocin’ thank you to our following partners, collaborators, and supporters for making our first year a success!
Belize Wildlife Referral and Clinic
The Belize Zoo
Friends for Conservation and Development
Forest and Marine Reserve of Caye Caulker
Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment
Scarlet 6 Biomonitoring Team
Southern Environmental Association
Fragments of Hope
IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group
Wildlife Conservation Society
The San Gabriel Next Gen Rotary Club
Wildlife Discovery Center