This month’s ALoadofCroc is written by CRC’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Dr. Marisa Tellez as she discusses CRC’s next big step in local conservation and management- obtaining 25 acres for the CRC Research, Rehab and Environmental Science Center!
I’ll give you the short version: I fell in love with apex predators at 5yrs old, at about 8-10yrs old my mom found me crying at the lack of empathy and understanding towards predators thus began the day I vowed myself as a predator advocate, and at 15yrs old was when I decided to dedicate my life towards crocodilian conservation. Went to school, worked at a wildlife sanctuary and the Los Angeles Zoo, went back to school for a
Master’s and PhD while networking with the world’s top experts in crocodilian conservation, research and management soon finding my place in the Steering Committee for the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group and a co-founder of a non-profit. And throughout this time I had a dream… that one day I would be managing a reserve or sanctuary, a safe haven for wild animals as well as a place for crocodiles who got a 2nd chance in life. But most importantly, this is where people can learn about THE FACTS of crocodiles, squashing any misguided beliefs about these creatures while instilling pride and a feeling of stewardship for all of nature.
As most of the community around Placencia Lagoon knows, the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) is a local wildlife non-profit that promotes the conservation of crocodiles and their habitat through research, management, education and community involvement. And although our focal species are crocodiles, the CRC recognizes that the conservation success of crocodiles and their habitat is also understanding about other flora and fauna within crocodile habitat. Besides the regular crocodile population surveys of crocodiles around the Placencia Lagoon, we also conduct weekly bird count surveys in addition to utilizing our drone Red Leader to monitor the local manatee population (thanks to the Marine Conservation Action Fund grant, in which the CRC is the 1st crocodile related project and organization to receive this grant!); and we have begun preliminary terrestrial surveys to monitor changes to the abundance and health of wildlife due to climate change and unsustainable development.
As a wildlife and conservation organization, our goal is to ensure long-term biodiversity and sustainability of the Placencia Lagoon, and the CRC is excited to announce that we have made the next big step in our long-term management plans for the Placencia Lagoon- WE HAVE SECURED 25 ACRES FOR THE CRC RESEARCH, REHAB, AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE CENTER! All of this was made possible due to the investment by Chris Dieter from Texas, USA, founder and owner of Crocodile Encounter and Ryan Blakely.
So, how did this all happen? Well, let’s go back to the beginning of the CRC. Our VERY first intern Andrew Austin shows up June 2017 for a week- he assisted in a health assessment of Brutus the 11ft American croc at The Belize Zoo, headed into the second largest rainforest in the Americas, Chiquibul Forest, to assist us in gathering data of the Morelet’s crocodile and then spent time catching crocs for our data around Placencia Lagoon. He heads back home to Texas where he raves about his time with the CRC, especially at his work, Crocodile Encounter. Over time our name (and as I’ve been told my name as a recognized researcher) gets vouched by many.
June 2018 CRC finds an opportunity to buy 25 acres of land in a historic crocodile location of the Placencia Lagoon, Flower Camp. We begin discussing ways of funding and
I send out an email to various colleagues about donating items for a fundraiser we were having to assist us in buying the land, including Chris Dieter. That’s when Chris and I begin to discuss future partnership. Fast forward to November 2019 and here we are… CRC and Crocodile Encounter partnering to further education, research and conservation of crocodiles and their habitat… my dream as a little girl is starting to become a reality!!!!
So what is this land all about? What are we going to create? Our plan is to restore part of the forest that was lost due to previous development and only develop on 5 acres, in addition we have access to another 35 acres that eventually can be entitled to us (making 70 acres to manage). The land is surrounded by other private nature reserves, thus our land assists in securing habitat for various wildlife and lengthening a corridor. The development will include the following:
- A Welcome/Environmental Science Center: want to learn more about the wildlife and habitats of Belize with a hands-on twist? This center is inspired by many of the Children Science Museums in the United State and in Europe where there are interactive displays in which kids (of all ages!) can have fun learning about science! To our knowledge, this will be the first science museum/center in Belize.
- Wildlife Veterinary Clinic/Rehabilitation Center: The CRC has become the Wildlife Triage and Response Team in southern Belize and understand the urgency for a wildlife clinic in southern Belize (currently there is only 1 in the whole country located in San Ignacio). Thus, we will have a wildlife veterinary clinic that can take care not only of crocs, but other wildlife that may be injured in the area. Rehabilitation enclosures for crocs, a temporary manatee enclosure and other rehab facility needs will be established so we can support emergency cases and be of assistance to our other rehabilitation partners. We are lucky to say a good Belizean friend and colleague of ours is currently in veterinary school in Texas, USA and she has already agreed to be the vet at the CRC facility, in addition we have a few private veterinarians and the Santa Barbara Zoo vet team willing to team up with us in design and donating supplies!
- Research Laboratory: What’s the CRC up to in research? A viewing deck will allow visitors to observe some of the laboratory research CRC conducts. The CRC is already in contact with a few international universities for certain equipment, such as the equipment needed to analyze heavy metal samples in water and tissue samples as well as a PCR to conduct basic genetics. Having such equipment will accelerate the amount of conservation research in-country as the majority of samples have to be exported outside the country, which slows the progress of any conservation and management action plans.
- Captive Crocodile Enclosures: The CRC already cares for 3 crocs who are not able to be released back into the wild. With these Wildlife Ambassadors, we intend to educate guests about the FACTS about crocodiles, squashing the myths and misguided beliefs that unfortunately cause abuse towards crocodiles (and other animals).
- Nature Trails: Throughout the property a few nature trails will be created for day and night tours. Tours will be made through DTourz.
The CRC is very excited in this huge leap towards conservation efforts and long-term sustainable management of the Placencia Lagoon. We anticipate our investment of the land has secured a potential biological corridor in the western side of the lagoon. The CRC will continue to work with our neighbors in hopes that they are willing to also assist in the management of flora and fauna. And hopefully this action of good stewardship will expand towards the peninsula in which current and new investors seek guidance in developing sustainably, after all, what attracts so many tourists to Placencia is that it is NOT like many other places. Why destroy the very thing that attracts visitors? As the world becomes more eco-conscious, the communities around the Placencia Lagoon has an amazing opportunity to stand out in the world as a model in which people AND wildlife can thrive!
“If you build it, they will come.” As I got the call that the land was now officially CRC/Crocodile Encounter my heart sank. My vision, my work’s passion is finally coming into fruition after (excuse my French) all the shit I’ve been through – my heart sank not because of sadness, but of overwhelming joy! I couldn’t believe my dream was now becoming reality. Anyone in the world of conservation has definitely been through tough times. However, my recommendation is take those obstacles as learning experiences. What did you learn to prevent repeating the past? Gain, don’t lose, from those experiences- they are life lessons that will only make you stronger and solidify your work ethic for the one thing you love to do most- conservation!
The Placencia Lagoon is such a unique treasure- from crocs to manatee, from sea turtles to a potential pupping ground for sharks (yes, we have encountered sharks in the lagoon!), in additional to supporting a migration of cownose rays as well as migratory birds, the CRC hopes that are facility can educate residents and visitors alike, inspiring a feeling of pride and stewardship to protect the place we call HOME. So stay tuned as the next few years are going to be a crocin’ good one as we establish the full facility!!! Oh, and Kevin Costner, you are welcome anytime- no room for a baseball field but we can throw the ball around!
The CRC is a Belize based non-profit with a sister 501(c)3 in the United States, Collective ConSERVation. For more information about the CRC, as well as if you are interested in helping with the funding of the CRC facility, please head to: https://crocodileresearchcoalition.org