The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is one of two crocodile species that inhabits Belize. This species primarily inhabits coastal cayes, estuaries, and brackish water mangrove wetlands, and is recovering from near extirpation in Belize as a result of over-harvesting in the early 1900s. It is currently listed as “Vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) throughout its range, however, in Belize the species is considered Critically Endangered based on data collected during the 1995-1997 countrywide survey in which only 250 American crocodiles were observed (Platt, S. G., and J. Thorbjarnarson. 2000. Status and conservation of the American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, in Belize. Biological Conservation 90: 13–20). Results from the original surveys reported Belize to be among the lowest encounter rates reported for the region (0.28 crocodiles/km surveyed).
The last thorough survey of Crocodylus moreletii(Morelet’s crocodile) in Belize was conducted in the mid-1990s, suggesting that the Morelet’s crocodile had recovered from past exploitation, contributing to the general conservation status as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, since the mid-1990s there has been scattered data on the population status of the species, and knowledge of the current national population is data deficient.
In collaboration with the Belize Forest Department, the CRC initiated a countrywide survey of the American and Morelet’s crocodile in January 2016 to assess the current population in order to establish a much needed conservation management program in concomitance to assisting wildlife managers, conservationists, and other key stakeholders in the decision-making process that can mitigate negative interactions between humans crocodiles and protect critical habitat. Upon completion of the project, the CRC will work with government and key stakeholders to develop the 1stConservation and Management Action Plan for crocodiles in Belize to ensure their survival for future generations.
By protecting crocodile habitat, we anticipate the conservation efforts will have a positive umbrella effect, protecting and conserving species that are not well known or studied, in addition to furthering protection of natural resources. Additionally, by increasing protection, awareness and tolerance of crocodiles, we are also preserving a bit of Belize’s culture as crocodiles are very much intertwined with Belize’s history.
This survey follows the methods as presented at the 2010 Morelet’s crocodile tri-country meeting in which Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico agreed in conducting countrywide surveys to eventually foster a transborder collaborative effort in regional conservation and management of the species. This project includes 5 parts:
· Habitat Monitoring
· Nocturnal Eyeshine Survey
· Capture and Mark Survey
· Nest Survey
· (and added by the CRC) Community Outreach: in all locations surveyed, the CRC takes time to mingle with communities and lead educational outreach events to provide education and awareness to those living alongside crocodiles, in addition to receiving data for a crocodile perception community survey. This survey is to educate us in demographic perspective of crocodiles so that we may create an educational program that is effective.
This countrywide survey was financially supported by Canada CrocFest, the San Diego Zoo, Conservation, Food and Health Foundation, and Sea of Change Foundation.
CRC will be analyzing data to begin writing the draft for a conservation and management plan for both species in Belize.