“A simple act of kindness and compassion towards a single animal may not mean anything to all creatures, but will mean everything to one.” — Paul Oxton
This month has pulled at the heart strings of the CRC. From watching the last breath of a manatee, to capturing a “problematic croc” that ended up dying from an overload of heavy metal contamination exposure, September has been a month that has reminded the team the reason why we do what we do… we love our wildlife and will work towards building the bridge of co-existence between humans and wildlife.
This month’s blog summarizes the heartbreaking interaction between CRC Co-Founder Dr. Marisa Tellez and an old manatee, as well as the discovery of what caused the death of a rescued Morelet’s crocodile, known as Sandor Clegane.
It was a glimmer of hope…
On the morning of Wednesday, September 12, the CRC and our partners at the Southern Environmental Association responded to calls and messages about a distressed manatee in the northern area of Placencia Lagoon. Manatee death was fresh in the world of the CRC- we just responded to the death of female manatee whom was drowned by 2 male suitors. Upon arrival, the manatee was motionless. CRC Co-Founder and Executive Director Dr. Marisa Tellez slowly slipped in the water, but her disturbance frightened the manatee away. A few meters in the distance he came up, struggling for breath, and Dr. Tellez slowly waded in the water towards him. He was struggling to keep his balance, and soon flipped over on his back motionless again. Dr. Tellez lightly touched him as not to frighten him, finally grasping him to flip him over. He took a deep breath. Upon this breath he turned his head and looked at her. A moment Dr. Tellez will never forget,
and a moment in which it is too hard too describe. It was then, the manatee seemed not to be frighten, and allowed her to hold onto him, wading back to the boat where she held him, keeping him in balance that allowed him to take breaths more at ease. At one point she let go, and a few minutes later he rolled back on his back. This time it was more of a struggle to flip him over, but finally was able to get him back upright- he took a breath. He seemed to be recovering- a glimmer of hope as we converse with Wildtracks and Jamal Galves from Sea to Shore about a plan of action. Time passed (45 min to be exact), and Dr. Tellez continued to hold the manatee to assist him in his breathing, and then, a sudden small burst of energy came from the manatee as if he asked “let me go.” He went under, softly brushing Dr. Tellez’s leg as he swam by. Minutes passed, and about 20 meters away, we saw the manatee come up, struggling to take a deep breath. He went down… we waited. We searched. He was not seen again.
The carcass of this old male manatee was recovered a day later by the CRC, in which a necropsy pointed to signs of dying of old age. It was miraculous to not see any boat strikes on this manatee. This manatee led an old life, and was smart enough to stay astray from humans.
The population of manatees in Belize is declining due to various threats, and they need our help to continue to survive. Although crocodiles are our focal species, the CRC recognizes that the conservation success of crocodiles and their habitat also includes gaining knowledge and aiding other wildlife, like manatees, and we will continue to assist our colleagues researching and protecting manatees here in Belize. If you are interested in learning more on how YOU can help the manatee population here in Belize, check out Jamal Galves from Sea to Shore, as well as Wildtracks website!
It’s like the canary in the coal mine…
An early Tuesday morning, the CRC message board was blowing up. Someone had taken a video of some youth coaxing a crocodile that they knew via direct feeding, and it ate a young boy’s dog. Forest Department notified CRC quickly to assist in capturing this habituated crocodile. After analyzing video of the attack and identifying key marks on the crocodile’s face, the CRC assisted Forest Department and went to Orange Walk Town to capture the crocodile. Using our research drone Red Leader, we identified the crocodile and successfully captured the animal by Banquitas Bridge. Once captured, the CRC was able to confirm the markings but we also noticed some signs of heavy metal exposure (quick lethargy, peeling skin, glassy teeth, extended
soft belly). Some community members expressed their concerns to the CRC in regards to the health or contamination in the New River from observations of dead fish in the river, thus the physical state of the croc is likely a result of bioaccumulation. We took a tissue sample for heavy metal analysis.
The crocodile, that became known as Sandor (named after Sandor Clegane from Game of Thrones given “similar” face scars) was put in captivity in which we were planning to conduct negative reinforcement rehabilitation so that he could one day be released back in the wild (away from communities). However, given his state of health we decided to wait on the program until he illustrated signs of improvement in his health. Unfortunately, it was too late. After a month in captivity, Sandor passed. White Blood Cell analysis illustrated signs of degenerative anemia, and necropsy illustrated signs of a crocodile that has been slowing dying for at least a few
months. Musculature was poor, and organs were in a process of rotting. This is a red flag for the CRC, a canary in the coal mine, as his poor state of health reflects contamination within the environment, whether it is through direct or indirect exposure. The CRC will be heading back to Orange Walk to continue capture surveys in New River to assess other crocodiles’ state of health. It would seem this Sandor died alone from his wounds, but won’t be coming back next season like his namesake.
The Crocodile Research Coalition is a Belize non-profit with a sister 501(c)3 company in the United States. If you would like to donate or assist the CRC in their conservation and community work, please check out their website at https://crocodileresearchcoalition.org.