WAYS TO JOIN US
I first began my work with crocodiles in 2014 following a lifelong passion to work these amazing animals. During my initial volunteering and internship I was granted the opportunity to work under Dr. Marisa Tellez assisting with her crocodylian parasite research in Belize. My first experience working with Dr. Tellez has since evolved into a mentorship and working partnership on multiple projects. Since I began working with her I have been consistently impressed by her commitment to community involvement and education, and the outstanding quality of her scientific research. I have been working with the CRC since its establishment as a graduate research associate studying behavior and bioacoustics of American crocodiles. As a fellow biologist beginning my career, it has been an honor working with Dr. Tellez, and now as the CRC’s program coordinator.
Staying true to the core values of Dr. Tellez and the integrity of her research, the Crocodile Research Coalition is a dynamic organization that not only contributes critical scientific information but also actionable conservation through dedicated community engagement. The CRC actively participates and empowers the local community, and has formed a network of collaboration between institutions across Belize. I am encouraged by the current effort and future plans to further conservation in Belize and know that Marisa and Karl have the expertise and ability to accomplish everything they set out to do. I have personally seen the change they enact in communities and am excited to continue working to further this social action.
I fully support this organization and encourage those with an interest in crocodylian and wildlife conservation to become involved with this fantastic organization!
Master of Science
West Virginia University
Whenever I ask someone in wildlife conservation why they do what they do, the answer is typically about their childhood love for wildlife. My reason for wanting to be a part of this community is no different. Dr. Tellez, CRC Co-founder, has been an amazing mentor and taught me so much in the time I’ve known her. In reality, I’ve only just begun in this field and still have questions about exactly what I want to do. What I do know is that I couldn’t have asked for a better organization or group of people to fall in with than those of the Crocodile Research Coalition.
Recently I was lucky enough to be a part of the CRC and their mission. I spent nine months in Belize working with the CRC and was given the opportunity to aid in creating a Program Coordinator position for the organization. During this time I participated in both research and educational outreach, gaining invaluable experience I felt I’d missed out on in my first internship. The CRC, despite the name, is passionate about more than just crocs. Don’t get me wrong, Crocs Rock and we all love them! However, as I’ve learned, trying to save one species simply doesn’t work. The CRC gave me the chance to work in multiple areas of research and with various wildlife. Not to mention having the opportunity to work with other wildlife organizations and travel to unique locations around Belize! Despite the excitement of field work, the most valuable experience I gained was in outreach. While I’ve never been much for public speaking, it’s clear to see how much of an impact words can have in conservation. There were multiple occasions where a conversation created a change in mindset for someone who once feared or disliked crocs and that is a heartwarming sight.
If anyone has the opportunity to work with the CRC, I highly recommend it. The experience gained from doing so is absolutely unparalleled and the examples I’ve mentioned are only a fraction of it all. Dr. Tellez and Karl Kohlman have created an incredible organization that inspires people to make a difference and really get involved in wildlife and croc conservation.
I have always loved wildlife and knew that I wanted to work in conservation and wildlife research. I followed that interest to the University of Miami where I completed a Master of Professional Science in Marine Mammal Science. My work focused on Bottlenose Dolphins in South Florida and while I loved that work I felt something was missing. As I continued to study and participate in conservation I realized that there was more to it than just the science. I saw conflict, poverty, political agendas, stakeholder needs and a myriad of other factors undermining conservation efforts around the world. Acknowledging these major issues I decided to pursue a masters degree in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation with the intention of bringing the two fields together to work on human-wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade, poaching, and resource exploitation.
I have had the great privilege of spending much of my childhood in Belize and spending several months at Wildtracks, a wildlife rehabilitation NGO in Northern Belize. I knew I wanted to come back to Belize to do more wildlife work and I contacted Sharon Matola, Founding Director of the Belize Zoo and close family friend, to see if she knew anyone who might be interested in my work. She put me in touch with Dr. Marisa Tellez who told me about some of the issues crocodiles are facing in the Placencia Lagoon region and Belize in general. Human-wildlife conflict, poaching, and illegal trade are occurring here in Belize with many different species, including both species of crocodile. This is my first time working with crocodiles and I am excited to expand my knowledge about another species and continue my exploration into conflict and wildlife conservation.
Within this first month of working with the CRC I have been on eyeshine surveys, participated in community outreach with local schools, assisted with the planning and participation of monthly beach cleanups, attending village council meetings, responded to various community members concerns about crocodiles, handled hatchlings and helped with the release of one of them and written a grant with Marisa for future work, just to name a few things! It has been a great first month and I feel like I hit the jackpot with Marisa and Karl, they have been supportive of my interests and involved me in the many aspects of their work. I am looking forward to seeing how we can address poaching, illegal trade and human-croc conflicts here in Belize and hopefully not only improve the understanding and conservation of crocodiles but also identify the deep rooted human needs that are driving them.
“Do you want the dangerous job or the really dangerous job,” asked my kayak partner, Karl as we waded into the murky water to launch our vessel. Seconds earlier, standing on shore, we had scanned the water’s surface with our headlamps, and in addition to cutting through the inky blackness of night in this remote area of Belize, we had also picked up the ominous red eye-shines of at least 18 adult crocodiles, so I really didn’t want to know what the really dangerous job was.
During our time here on Earth we should all be so lucky to be asked such a life-affirming question, and have the opportunity to feel excitement, learn new things, and take part in truly meaningful conservation work. I achieved all of these things while participating in my internship with the Crocodile Research Coalition.
From behavioral observations and data entry, to setting and retrieving images from game cameras, to taking part in crocodile census work and habitat evaluating, to hands-on captures of crocs when necessary, and even interacting with local people to get them to better understand the unique and evolutionarily-ancient species they coexist with – my internship had it all.
While crocodiles were the focus of my trip to Belize, no species can be saved without understanding its role in the ecosystem in which it lives. I ended up learning not just about crocodiles, but all the animals that share the environment with them, and seeing many of those animals close-up and in some pristine tropical and coastal habitats. I also mingled with many interesting conservation-minded professionals, researchers, and students from around the country and visiting from around the world, many of whom I still keep in contact with.
So, if you’re the type of person who likes – or at least doesn’t mind – such charming field work conditions as brushing off the occasional tarantula, kayaking through crocodile-infested water at night, having bats swoop and shriek over your head, an occasional startled iguana kamikazing out of a tree to cannonball into the water near you, and fish torpedoing out of the river and into your lap, then a Crocodile Research Coalition Internship is definitely an opportunity you don’t want to pass up.
My internship with the Crocodile Research Coalition was nothing short of spectacular. I had an idea on what I may experience when I applied for this internship but it turned out to be way more than I expected. My goal for my internship with CRC was to learn the basics of crocodilian conservation. Dr. Marisa Tellez made sure I learned everything there is to know about crocodilian conservation and the methods used for the field research side of conservation. In addition to learning how to collect data and why the data is important for conservation, I also learned how to safely handle crocodiles which made the data collection process safe and easy. Overall my experience with CRC was very educational with a fun, hands on, approach. And by far the most adventurous wildlife experience I could ever imagine!
Veronica is the first recipient of the CRC’s Belize University Scholarship. Here are some excerpts from her time with the CRC. The full post can be found at: https://aloadofcroc.wordpress.com/2017/07/
“There’s never a dull moment working with the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC). In between the restless nights of work and the long journeys on dirt roads, there’s plenty of time for sing-alongs to the ‘catchy’ radio tunes as we reach our destinations. CRC adventures also incorporate plenty of sightseeing and hands-on experience.
While conducting surveys in Sittee River later in the month we came across a 4ft Morelet’s crocodile that had an eye missing and was covered in leeches. We managed to successfully remove the leeches off the back, the underside, and the legs of the croc. Those few that were inside the mouth were not removed. In total, 184 leeches were removed and preserved in alcohol to be sent abroad for identification of species. Based on observation of physical structure, we speculate that it could potentially be more than three leech species. Although our main focus is on crocodiles, we do not ignore other animals. Back in Placencia, we received word of an injured pelican and with the assistance of our vet-intern, Marianne Caron, and myself gave it fluids and provided a warm place for the night. The next day we dropped off the pelican at the Belize Bird Rescue located in Roaring Creek, a center that cares for avians.
On the last week of July, Danni, Rigoberto, the other CRC intern Ronan, and myself packed up the equipment and headed to Corozal District to research crocs in northern Belize. Surveys of the New River were conducted in collaboration with Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD). We spotted a total of 21
Morelet’s crocodiles during our nocturnal eyeshine survey, and had a successful capture. The population of crocs in the New River could potentially be larger, but our eyeshine survey was called off early as we were chased out of the area by a thunder storm. After three days of hard work, the team took time off to explore the cenote located a few meters away from Wildtracks, went for a swim in the turquoise sea, tanned for a while, and explored the hiking trails at Shipstern Conservation and Management Area.
My internship with the CRC has now come to an end but I will forever remain thankful for the amazing opportunity to work with wonderful people and for helping me to conquer my fear of poorly misunderstood creatures, crocodiles rock!”
It is hard to find the words to express the incredible experience that I had as an intern at the CRC, and I was only there for one month! Every single person I met were incredible people, from those in the organization (Marisa, Darcy, Karl, Maia, Jonathan, Kessel and Jyn), to my fellow hatchling house roomies (Felix and Tara), and all the people of Belize. I enjoyed every second I got to spend with them. They were all a blast to be around every day, and they made every moment fun (even when you’re getting destroyed by mosquitoes and sweating buckets). If the circumstances allowed for it, I would have stayed for as long as I possibly could.
I came into the program with a background in basic crocodilian handling/capture, but I was lacking any real research experience and needed to learn and gain a lot of research techniques that would help me for my future goal of crocodilian studies. The experience and techniques Marisa taught and exposed me to were above and beyond what I was expecting. I was hoping to learn some research techniques focused on crocodilians, of which I learned plenty, but the scope of everything I got to experience and learn about was also so much broader than just one animal order or focus. I think it was my second day that Marisa picked me up early in the morning, and the next thing I knew I was watching drone footage to identify manatees within the Placencia lagoon. A week or two after that and she even gave me a hands-on tutorial on how to operate the (very expensive!) drone manually.
I got to experience and learn about so many different types of flora and fauna, and the individual research techniques that were applicable. I’m still so excited about the moment we were doing a biodiversity survey by kayak, and a big fuzzy manatee nose surfaced right near us, and I cannot believe I got the chance to see Charlie, their local 10 ft. American croc just swimming casually away from us. Besides manatees and crocodiles, I got to see so many incredible animals like iguanas, basilisks, coati, yellow-headed parrots, red-tailed boas, agouti (which I dumbly thought was a baby capybara!), and countless more.
The organization that Marisa has created in such a short time span does so much incredible work for the conservation of all types of wildlife, not just crocodiles, and it is so far-reaching across the entire country. In just my short time there I got to travel up and down the Placencia peninsula, visited the Belize Zoo, took a boat trip to a beautiful caye, saw the shoreline of Mexico, and I even had the amazing experience to help conduct nocturnal eyeshine surveys in more remote parts of northern Belize. Camping on a beach removed from the general population to observe crocodiles in the mangroves at night, as well as doing multiple eyeshine surveys on the Sittee River are experiences I will never forget and will certainly be hard to top.
Most incredible to me was how involved Marisa has gotten the locals and the community to be an active part of the coalition, through programs working with kids and re-educating many people who have been misinformed about the true nature of the crocs they are living with. Now instead of fearing the animals, so many locals and expats alike seem to be actively wanting to help with the organization’s conservation mission, and many volunteer their time and resources to do so.
There were so many times when we were driving the truck with the CRC logo through town, and people would yell excitedly for the “Croc lady” (AKA Marisa), and want to see if there was a live croc in the back. As Marisa says, a vital part of conservation is working with people, not just the animals, and if you don’t involve the community then any conservation efforts will fall short in the long run. This CRC definitely gets this right in every regard, and it was an incredible experience to briefly be a part of such a well-run, and what will clearly be a long-established organization that will undoubtedly continue to expand. I would highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in wildlife, crocodilians, conservation, biodiversity, community outreach, education, and a million other areas, because you really do get to learn and experience it all, all while having a great time 🙂
We first became involved with the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) in 2015 when we were asked to support one of their student’s research with our physical presence and some extra training on crocodile capture, restraint and data collection techniques. Since then we have been back multiple times and have helped raise funds for the much needed crocodile research in Belize. It is refreshing to finally see a crocodile focused organization of professionals that is here for the crocodiles, as well as, the wildlife and people of Belize. I have been impressed with the amount of community outreach, training and assistance that the CRC is involved in, and have been ecstatic to be a part. Without the support, involvement and respect for the local communities conservation cannot work. Marisa and Karl know this and implement it on an almost daily basis. Their continued efforts to collaborate with international experts and scientists, as well as, their involvement in the IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group speaks volumes with regard to their commitment to excellence in Belize and worldwide. The growing support from the communities, the government and our international crocodile colleagues is testimony to their amazing efforts.
If you are thinking of joining the CRC Team as an affiliate, collaborator, student, intern, volunteer, etc…DO IT! You will not find another true crocodile conservation program that offers so much anywhere in Belize.
Crocodile Conservation International and Crocodile University is proud to be involved; supporting them in their endeavors as needed and we hope to continue our relationship with the CRC Team!
As always…SAVE THE CROCS!
Shawn K. Heflick, MS
Crocodile Conservation International, Inc.
Words can’t even begin to describe my love and respect for Marisa and the CRC…so instead it’ll have to begin with a story. The story of an enthusiastic, high spirited, albeit naïve, young freshman at UCLA on her way of becoming a wildlife biologist. Like many undergraduates entering UCLA, I was overly eager to start gaining research experience the moment I stepped onto campus. My head was spinning at the possibility of working with some of the brightest minds in science, but the problem was the brightest minds weren’t as eager to work with me, a young ignorant freshman. I contacted principle investigators, graduate students, even other departments to try to find some sort of lab willing to give me research experience, but after rejection after rejection AFTER REJECTION, in comes an email that would forever change my life. An email from a graduate student working with crocodilian parasitology telling me that if I’m willing to put some serious work in and get my hands “dirty”, to come down to her lab to meet her at once. I grabbed my hat, my longboard, and was out the door the second I finished reading that email. I sped down to her lab, probably dodged a few close calls, walked down what seemed like a dungeon reeking of ethanol and guts to meet some crazy haired lady in a cut-up t-shirt, eating green pasta with light saber chopsticks. That was the day I met Marisa Tellez…
Over the course of my undergraduate career Marisa coached me, mentored me, and pushed me to become the researcher she knew I could be. When others just saw another overly eager freshman, she saw potential and guided me to whatever goals I chose to seek. In 2011, I joined her lab and started learning about crocodilian parasitology with American alligators, and from 2012 I began fieldwork with her in Belize and Guatemala working with American crocodiles, Morelet’s crocodiles, and Spectacled Caimans. With Marisa there was never a “here watch as I do this” kind of moment, but rather a “hands-on experience and learn as you go” mentality. Day one in the lab, “Ok, this is how you dissect alligator intestines and look for parasites. Got it…Here is a scalpel, a microscope, and a jar of gator guts! Go for it! You won’t learn just standing there!” Day one off the airplane, “WELCOME TO BELIZE! Drop off your bag in the room, here’s some rope and a catch pole, your lessons on catching crocs starts now, aka we’re going croc catching right now!” When you work with Marisa, and you WILL get your hands (arms, body, clothes… probably face too) dirty, because working with Marisa is REAL work. There is no standing around watching as she and her team does everything, Marisa will make sure that you are working and working hard. When you become part of her team, you are the one wading waist deep into the water with her, you are the one catching the crocodile with her, you are the one getting vomited on by a croc, and chased by a hoard of bugs. Fieldwork is never easy, and those who say otherwise are either liars or haven’t experienced real fieldwork. Fieldwork is hard, fickle, unrelenting, and sometimes mentally and physically debilitating, but with Marisa, it had always been the best times of my life.
I honestly never thought I would be working with crocodiles, let alone falling in love with working with them. Yet here I am, still working with crocodiles in Belize, but now as a 2019 NSF-GRFP funded PhD student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa working as a research associate and colleague alongside Marisa and the CRC. Although Marisa fostered my start in parasitology, she encouraged me to make my own path and to ask my own questions. Currently, my research goal is to understand hybridization in two species of Central American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus and C. moreletii) from both a genetic and phenotypic perspective. Using a genome-wide association study, I am investigating genetic markers from physiological stress in hybrid zones, for which I aim to use this research to promote effective conservation/management strategies as well as fill in knowledge gaps in crocodilian biology and evolution.
Marisa’s passion for what she does is infectious. Seeing someone loving what they do in their career is a rare thing, but seeing someone love what they do and sharing that love for a greater purpose is a near impossible thing. I’ve watched the CRC grow from an idea to a full force organization that is conducting amazing work, being an inspiration to its community, and serving a greater purpose. I know their passion, their commitment, their work ethics, and their love for what they do. I give my full support to the CRC because when I was nothing but a bright-eyed ignorant freshman, Marisa Tellez of the CRC was the one who believed and supported me. She took me to places I never thought I’d be, achieve things I’d never thought I’d be able to do, and live a life I never thought I’d have. I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for her, and if she could do all these things for me, imagine what she could do with an organization for the betterment of crocodilian conservation across the world.
And for Marisa, you’ve changed my life. Meeting you was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because my life has never been the same since. You are everything I could have ever wanted in a mentor and more. You’ve taught me to “work hard and play harder”. To always believe in myself despite the doubts, hurdles, and negativity trying to drag me down along the way. You gave me a chance when no one else did and gave me the tools I needed to pave my own way. We’ve been through so much together from me crying on your shoulder in your office to laughing from the dirty looks we got at the coffee shop when we walked in covered in croc vomit. You’ve been with me every step of my way, and so I’ll be there every step in yours. You are my mentor, my partner-in-crime, my big sister, my great friend, and my inspiration. The CRC will grow, thrive, and do amazing things, because I know the amazing person who will take it there. You and the CRC have my full support, just as you had mine. I love you, you crazy lady!