A few days ago, in a river not so far away, Luke was found severely injured and emaciated by the CRC team during a routine nocturnal eyeshine survey of the New River. This special edition of aLoadofCroc is written by CRC Community Researcher Jonathan Triminio, and Co-Founder and Executive Director Dr. Marisa Tellez, and tells the story and strife of this young adult crocodile, and those who he has encountered who seek A New Hope for his recovery as he has an important story to tell.
On the night of November 29, CRC Orange Walk Representative, Jonathan Triminio along with Program Coordinator Darcy Uclez and Community Ecology Intern Diana Viveros conducted a Nocturnal Eyeshine Survey along the New River in Orange Walk District as part of an ongoing monitoring project on the New River utilizing crocodiles as a sentinel species or biological indicator of the river’s health. While on the survey they came across a 2m Morelet’s Crocodile with a severe machete wound near the base of its tail, and extremely emaciated. Given its conditions, the animal was safely captured and taken to a secure location over night, and then transported to The Belize Zoo in the morning where it received medical treatment by Dr. Phillip De Shield from Animal Medical Centre and keepers from The Belize Zoo. Given the location of the wound and the deepness of the cut, it is likely this crocodile named Luka was targeted for the tail meat.
The Morelet’s crocodile was almost hunted to extinction 100 years ago due to international demand for its meat and skin. With Belize’s Independence in 1981, laws were placed and enforced, making it illegal to kill crocodile as they were now protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Almost 15 years later, a countrywide survey by
Wildlife Conservation Society and IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group members reported that both species of crocodiles were recovering in population numbers from past exploitation, yet the future of the species was still dependent on active conservation and management enforcement. It was also during this period in the 1990s that the consumption of crocodile was unheard of in Belize. However, with increasing immigration a decade later from cultures that value crocodile meat as a status symbol or medicinal purposes has introduced this new protein source into local culture. It seems an old threat has resurfaced, once again threatening the future existence of crocodiles. There are many misguided beliefs and false facts about crocodiles in Belize from sensationalized news media and over-dramatic TV shows that are not always scientifically accurate. Because of this, many don’t care or see the need of protecting crocodiles for they are just man-eating monsters, right? That’s what the TV says to get the viewer ratings, but what do the actual experts say? Unfortunately, if animosity towards crocodiles based on melodramatic information continues, it will be too late for the truth, like so many predators before that now people yearn to have back.
Many animals around the world face extinction due to traditional beliefs for particular body parts to help cure certain ailments. However, much of these beliefs are not faced on scientific facts yet the misguided information continues to spread, dwindling wildlife populations. And for many around the world, the loss of wildlife is also a loss of one’s culture and identify as well.
This male Morelet’s Crocodile, now known as Luke, has a long road to recovery (why Luke? Because with his story maybe he can bring “Balance” to the Force, aka, educate people about the myths of wildlife medicinal use, educate people about THE FACTS about crocodiles (and other predators) to create tolerance, and create empathy and stewardship for animals to instill stewardship and coexistence. We are communicating with international veterinary croc experts to assist us in his recovery. Luckily for Luke, the machete did not chop to the bone so there is a good chance he will be able to fully recover and return where he belongs- back into the wild!
May the Force Be With You Luke, May the Force Be With You!