Imagine sitting on your porch in Belize enjoying a nice whiskey at sunset, your eyes wondering over the lagoons surface. You notice a log slowly passing by… the log stops, yet the current of the water continues. Interesting??? You get your binoculars… that’s not a log, that’s a crocodile! At this point, various emotions may arise but the extreme of the two may come forward: 1) “OMG, this is soooo cool!!! I love nature!”, or 2) OMG, it’s a crocodile! I must call someone to remove it!”
Let’s say you reacted to #2. Because of what you mainly see on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, and because of the lack of education or being improperly informed, you think every croc is a man-eating crocodile, plotting the next hunt to take a sweet bite out of your abdomen or leg. So you call the local authorities or nuisance crocodile wranglers or local research experts to come check out this croc… and hopefully remove it.
The local authorities and/or experts come to assess the situation. A trap is built and the croc is successfully captured and relocated… no discussion with you, no discussion with the community, just a quick in-and-out job. You may feel a sigh of relief, but you just contributed to an ecological, and somewhat cultural, disaster. Disastrous for the crocodile population, disastrous for the local community, disastrous for the local ecosystem of Belize.
Why is removing a croc with no educational discussion disastrous you say? Um… the “no education” part should say it all. Removing crocs without no communication or education, or just simply removing them for “being crocs” sends out a message that these animals are vicious monsters that CAN NOT co-exist with humans and must be removed upon sight away from all human contact (and really, this goes for any wildlife). Here in Belize the American and Morelet’s crocodile are NOT what crocodylian experts would deem as man-eaters. These species would prefer to stay away from humans, and both species are struggling to survive as humans encroach into their habitat, and deplete their food source (such as via over-fishing). We have made it difficult for them (any wildlife really) to survive, not the other way around. And please do not get me wrong… I’m not saying “yay” for crocodiles and “boo” for humans. Myself along with my organization (the Crocodile Research Coalition) will do anything we can to ensure the safety of communities that live within crocodile habitat. And as a mother…. I would do ANYTHING to ensure the safety of my child. But, as a mother, I will also teach my daughter to respect crocodiles and that we CAN co-exist with them, even if we lived in Mugger or Nile or Indo-Pacific crocodiles territory, which are considered Man-Eating species. As my grandmother said, “Your money, your car, your clothes… people can take these away but NOBODY can take away your education.” Education is key, and that is what I’m (the CRC) is striving to do. Educate communities about the Dos and Dont’s living with crocodiles. We will NOT remove every crocodile that is deemed “problematic” because many of these problematic crocodiles are not problematic… they are just being crocodiles! The Belize Forest Department has the same sentiment; working with them this past week on some wildlife issues in the Placencia area you can see they are promoting the education to co-exist, not remove. And for those of us that live in Belize, if we are going to ensure that Belize remains wild, we not only need to fight against the poaching that is devastating much of our wild populations, but we also need to fight against our ignorance, fear, lack of education, and most of all, our ego.