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The Calm before the Crocin’ Storm

Chiquibul Forest

As May comes to an end it is time for our monthly adventure update! We wanted to start off by thanking all our loyal followers and those who have been supporters of the CRC. This month, while still busy, was like the calm before the storm, basically the perfect start for bringing in the wet season.

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At the beginning of the month we had two school groups visit us with the Wildlife Institute. These student groups were able to join us on our crocodile populations surveys we are currently conducting for the Morelet’s Crocodile Nationwide Population Survey.  Through the surveys, they learn about all the different methods we use in collecting data that will help us and Forest Department determine the status of Morelet’s crocodiles in Belize.  And with every visit, the students receive a load of the most updated crocodile information via a presentation by Dr. Tellez (and thanks to her colleagues from the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group who are THE experts when it comes to all things croc and are knowledgeable with all the up-to-date croc facts!). Such as did you know crocodile eyesight is not very good?  Crocodile eyesight is actually poor or less precise than ours HOWEVER the crocodile fovea in the eye (a tightly group of receptors that delivers “sharpness” in vision) is a horizontal streak instead of a circular spot.  This allows the crocodile to scan the shoreline without moving its head, a great adaptation for an ambush predator as the less movement or sound, the more likely you can sneak up on your prey! (details can be found in Journal of Experimental Biology).  

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Outreach has been big this month with visits to a few of the local schools here on the Placencia Peninsula. Our outreach also became an announcement- we will be launching Next Gen Croc Placencia very soon (check out the link here to learn more about this youth program http://www.crocodileresearchcoalition.org/portfolio/student-led-population-survey-caye-caulker/). Next Gen Croc Placencia has four more spots to fill with standard six students who are interested in aiding with our monthly crocodile eyeshine surveys and biodiversity surveys. If your child is interested please have them write a paragraph on their interest in joining us and send it to program.coordinator@crcbelize.org.

On May 15th, the CRC traveled to Caye Caulker, along with their newest intern, Carys Corry-Roberts. But right before that we made a stop at The Belize Zoo to assist our colleagues from TBZ to release a Morelet’s Crocodile back into the wild.  This crocodile, named Tilapio, was captured at a Tilapia farm and rescued by TBZ.  Not a problematic croc and considerably healthy, we took all the measurements and tagged Tilapio in accordance to the scute clipping of the nationwide Morelet’s Croc Population Survey prior to releasing.  

On the island, we once again partnered with our talented Next Gen Croc students from Ocean Academy to conduct an ongoing population survey of American Crocodiles. With the help of our expert captain, Tony from FAMRACC, we were able to carry out eyeshine and capture surveys in both the northern and southern ends of the island. The captured American Crocs were measured, tagged, and assessed for any visible health issues, and all the data was recorded for our population assessments on Caye Caulker. We found one nest in the reserve, and were excited to discover that it was a multi-year nest, from the presence of old eggshells. Great experience for all, especially for our new CRC Representative on Caye Caulker, Lilly Alamina!

In addition to our population surveys, CRC also conducts bird and biodiversity surveys on Caye Caulker. For our biodiversity surveys, we collect snails from the mangroves in two different areas on the island and dissect them to determine the presence of parasites, an essential bio-indicator. We were somewhat concerned with the lack of parasites found in snails collected from the southern part of Caye Caulker where a large section of coastal mangroves have recently been cut down to expand the beach. Mangroves act as a sink, which absorb heavy metals from the water, and when they are removed, these heavy metals are re-released, upsetting the water chemistry snails and their parasites need to remain healthy.

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On one of our final days in Caye Caulker, we received a call from a local resident to inform us of a dead crocodile she discovered on her property. When we arrived, we were devastated to discover this breeding male had died a painful death after someone attempted to catch him with a large baited hook and heavy duty fishing line. However, it was very touching to see the reaction to the crocodile’s death from the neighborhood- many people stopped by to voice their frustration that some of their community members may not understand the importance of the crocodiles and how it’s possible to coexist with these animals. The majority of Caye Caulker knows the importance of wildlife and advocate for co-existence with all animals.  Next Gen Croc kids will continue to empower the community of Caye Caulker in co-existing with crocodiles so such events like this will not happen in the future.

We returned to home base towards the end of the month, and jumped right back into the swing of things, conducting nest and capture surveys for the Morelet’s Crocodile Population Survey.  Carys caught a little three footer and a yearling which were added to our record for the Morelet’s Nationwide Population Survey.

 We’re really looking forward to the coming month- we will be traveling to a few more areas around Belize to continue our Nationwide Morelet’s Crocodile Population Survey (Cox Lagoon, San Ignacio, Chiquibul, Belize River!), and have a few more new interns (including our University of Belize Scholar!) on the way!  Yes, this month was the calm before the storm!