Keeping Track: Satellite transmitter deployment on crocodiles in Belize
The success of conservation and management programs depends on contemporary and reliable scientific data that can be translated into local and national policy (i.e, translational ecology). One way that scientists are increasingly able to provide such data is through the use of satellite tracking technologies. Satellite transmitters are valuable resources for tracking wildlife, particularly cryptic species, such as crocodiles. Belize was once a stronghold for American crocodiles, however, half a century of exploitation decimated populations until the species became nationally protected under Wildlife Protection Act of 1981. Although past threats have diminished, increasing development of critical crocodile habitat is resulting in displacement of crocodiles and mounting human-crocodile conflict.
In order to begin assessing how crocodiles utilize habitat in Belize, the Crocodile Research Coalition is in the initial stages of setting up a satellite tracking program to collect quality scientific data assessing American crocodile abundance, population demographics, population health, nest ecology, habitat, and to continue in the establishment and growth of a national mark-recapture database. Additionally, we intend to investigate a crucial and understudied facet of crocodilian ecology- the spatial ecology of the American crocodile. Data collected will assist us in providing government recommendations for expansion of protected areas specifically for the species given the habitat use, movement, and seasonal dispersal trends identified from this project.
Satellite tracking will also allow us to plan management in accordance to how crocodiles use habitat, particularly in the face of human development, human-modified habitats, and climate change.
In January 2019, CRC deployed the 1st iridium satellite transmitter on an adult American crocodile in Belize and Central America. The crocodile, better known as TK-421, not only made history in regards to satellite tracking crocs, but also became infamous as a success story in regards to rehabilitating crocs to be returned back into the wild thanks to the help from our colleague and international croc behavior expert Flavio Morrissey. According to the satellite tracking data, TK-421 has settled into their new home and established a home range.
This project is supported and partially funded by CrocFests.
After a series of technical difficulties with our previous satellite trackers, the CRC has successfully deployed an ARGOS unit on an American crocodile from Southern Belize. On December 14, 2021, we led a Mark and Capture survey in Monkey River, where we caught a 2.65 m male American crocodile and deployed a satellite tracker donated to us by St. Augustine Alligator Farm. As of now, we have observed that crocodile AuggieJ is utilizing over 3 kilometers of river. Over time we will see the magnitude of his territory and home range as an adult male. The data retrieved from this unit will help us better understand the movement and spatial ecology of this locally endangered species, which will assist us in creating a conservation action plan for crocodiles in Belize.
Interested in donating a satellite tracker? With your donation, not only will you contribute to the conservation and management of crocodiles in Belize, but you can name the satellite croc and receive monthly updates. In Belize? Why not join us in deploying the satellite tracker! Please contact the CRC Research Coordinator for more details.