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No Rest for the Crocin’ Wicked June

This blog entry was written by Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) Intern Carys Corey-Roberts during her several week internship with the CRC, detailing the month of adventures in June from her point of view.

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The fun never ends when you’re working with the CRC! June was another busy month, as we continued our nationwide Morelet’s Crocodile survey in various places all around Belize, CRC Program Coordinator Danni, Master’s student Blakely, and myself kicked off the month by traveling to Gale’s Point to research the crocs in that location. We were hosted at Leaning Palms Resort by the lovely Ken and Taunya- all three team members agreed we had not been fed so well in ages!

Historically, there was a large, healthy population of crocodiles at Gale’s Point, a report we were eager to corroborate. However, as is often the case with wildlife research, plans are always changing, and due to the size of both lagoons (Southern and Northern Lagoon), we were only able to conduct surveys in Southern Lagoon. Being the start of the rainy season, weather also created some obstacles for the team, as crocodiles are a bit picky about hanging out where we can see them if it’s too windy!

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The next stop on our journey around Belize was San Ignacio, a vibrant little town near the Guatemalan border. On our first night in town, we followed up on some reports of a large population of crocodiles in the area- and we were not disappointed! Over the course of the evening, we counted exactly 80 crocodiles, many of which were over 5ft in length. We also had a successful capture survey, as I honed in on my skills capturing crocs from a canoe, and Danni capturing a 7 ½ ft animal! We stayed out until 3am, and gathered some very valuable data to help us further understand the population dynamics of Morelet’s crocodiles in Belize. Even more exciting, we managed to photograph the first known leech on a Morelet’s crocodile in Belize- crawling through a croc’s false nostril!

Life with the CRC isn’t always all about crocodiles though. After a lot of hard work, Danni and myself took a day off to explore San Ignacio. We visited the Iguana Sanctuary at the San Ignacio Hotel- what a cool spot! This dedicated organization takes in green iguanas (endangered in Belize) who have been injured or kept as pets and have been given up, rehabbing them for re-introduction back into the wild, or caring for them if the are deemed unrealeasable. In addition, they conduct a breeding program, in which eggs from wild nests are incubated and the hatchlings are raised until they are strong enough to have a very good chance at survival in the wild, basically giving the little guys a great head start in life!

Chiquibul Forest

After our time in San Ignacio, we met up with Dr. Tellez and our newest intern, James Hall before heading out to Chiquibul Forest. This was a treat as we teamed up with Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) and got to spend our nights out on theriver looking for crocs, and our days assisting them with their Scarlet Macaw monitoring project (many poachers enter the forest on foot from Guatemala, and steal Scarlet Macaw chicks from their nest to be sold into the exotic pet trade- and often imported into the United States. This, in addition with the massive habitat loss caused by the construction of the Chalillo Dam has resulted in a drastic decrease in macaw numbers over the past 20 years, a crisis FCD is dedicated to resolving. Chiquibul is lucky to have them!). And of course, there’s nothing quite like sleeping in a hammock out in the jungle and waking up to the sounds of macaw parents in the tree overhead. Over our three days in Chiquibul, we conducted a nocturnal eyeshine survey and two successful capture surveys!

Chiquibul Forest is home to one of the last remaining genetically pure populations of Morelet’s crocodiles. Elsewhere in Belize, a combination of climate change, habitat loss, and American crocodiles’ tolerance for freshwater has allowed the two species to hybridize. In addition, the remoteness of Chiquibul means that the crocs here have not been fed or harassed by humans, allowing us a unique glimpse into an ecosystem where animals operate much as they would have in a time before ours. The forest itself is reminiscent of a prehistoric jungle: towering trees, massive palms, and best of all, no trash!

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The following weekend was a day that the CRC has worked long and hard towards: the first international World Croc Day! On June 17th, the whole team packed up and headed to The Belize Zoo, where celebrations commenced. We had a fantastic day of outreach, and even though the weather didn’t fully cooperate, the turn out was great! Activities for the day included kids crafts and games, croc talks, music and t-shirt sales (designed by our very own Danni Brianne) to benefit ongoing croc conservation and research.

Next on the whirlwind tour was Cox Lagoon, a very special spot for crocs near The Belize Zoo. For our survey this month, we were joined by a group of pre-vet students from CELA (Center for Engaged Learning Abroad) after Dr. Tellez gave them a lecture on all the ins and outs of crocodilians earlier that morning.

Back in Maya Beach, we began preparations for Placencia’s Lobsterfest! Another whole weekend of vital (and fun!) outreach was planned and executed pretty flawlessly if I do say so myself. We had a great time hanging out on the beach with our fellow community members and organizing more games and crafts for the kids in attendance. We were thrilled to meet a number of very enthusiastic students interested in becoming a part of Next Gen Croc programs in Independence when they launch this fall. Great things are on the horizon!

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Finally, the last week of June began our survey of the Belize River- a huge undertaking that would not be possible without the assistance of the Belize Defense Force Special Boats Unit, for which we are very grateful. Our first night, we conducted an eyeshine survey from Ladyville to Bermudian Landing and saw 65 crocs! We were out until 4am, so it was a great night of crocin’!

All this excitement concludes my time in Belize, an incredible experience I will not soon forget. The research and outreach conducted by the Crocodile Research Coalition is not only vital to ensuring the persistence of crocodile species here in Belize, but is also clearly working. I’ve been continually impressed by the attitudes of many Belizeans, especially kids, towards what are often seen as dangerous and scary animals, and I know the CRC has had a large role in fostering and maintaining these attitudes. I’m sure Belize has not seen the last of me, but for now- Cheers, from Carys of No Fixed Abode.

Cat nap at 3am
Looking for Croc Nests
Trying not to get whacked in the face by tree branches