Posted by Isabel Carrio, Field Project Manager on June 30, 2017
The Toledo District in southern Belize is a place where people and jaguars live together in close proximity sharing a quickly evolving landscape - presenting a unique conservation challenge.
According to local reports, dog predation - not loss of livestock – drives a culture of conflict with jaguars among the region’s Mayan communities. These reports should be approached with some degree of caution, as jaguars are often blamed for a dog disappearance without any real evidence. However, enough actual attacks do occur, usually while hunting game animals at night or on the outskirts of villages, that firmly cement the jaguar's reputation as a dog-killer for the locals.
In June, Julio Chub and Marchilio Ack of Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust engaged 184 primary school students of Indian Creek, Big Falls and Silver Creek communities with the presentation: “Understanding Cats and Livestock Depredation in Belize,” providing an introduction to the physiology and ecology of big cats, some of the causes behind jaguar predation, and a review of ways to prevent unwanted encounters. Students learned about some of the simple measures farmers can take to protect their livestock, such as keeping their animals away from forested areas and fencing off streams, two environments where jaguars are commonly found.
Following the presentation, I joined Julio and Marchilio in engaging students in activities, such as Creative Greeting, Step Into the Circle, mask drawing and an adapted version of the Super Hero Appreciation activity featuring humans and jaguars.
Students expressed the different points of view in their roles as Human and Jaguar:
“Please, Jaguar, don’t eat my dog…Jaguar, you are so beautiful but I am scared of you…Jaguar, I would like to be your friend…Jaguar, please don’t come to my house…Human, please don’t kill me, I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me…Humans, please don’t eat all of the armadillos.”
The clinics provided an important opportunity for the students to share personal experiences and perceptions about jaguars and an effective platform for Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust and CAI to collaborate and share our efforts to protect jaguars using scientific data, creative thinking activities and the arts.
Earlier in the spring, I joined the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and graffiti artist Maria Rosa Szychowska for the privilege of implementing a clinic and community mural with 40 primary school students and 2 teachers of PG Methodist School in Punta Gorda, Belize to raise awareness about protecting the Hicatee river turtle and other endangered species in the region.
The Hicatee is a Meso-American river turtle found in only four countries – Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. They have an extended development period of 9-10 months before hatching. Hicatees are currently over-hunted in Belize's rivers and are now critically endangered. Due to their long life cycle, Hicatees are not reproducing fast enough to replace this loss in numbers from hunting.
Students participated in activities such as the Problem/Solution Tree and Letter to the Future, taking initiative to include other endangered species like tapirs, armadillos, toucans, scarlet macaws, jaguars and manatees. Heartfelt letters were written, featuring inspiring drawings, and ten selected letters were sent to the animals of the Belize Zoo. After two days of working together, a celebration took place to inaugurate the finished mural depicting Hicatee turtles thriving in their river habitat. Students read their letter in front of the mural, sharing their hope and determination for the future.
You are my friend, and I want to find ways to help you and protect you, so you can be safe and nobody can harm you. You are so beautiful and I love the way you swim. Sometimes, I wish I was a Hicatee instead of a human being. I will never destroy you, because you don’t destroy me. I will tell everybody I know not to kill you or eat your eggs. I would like to visit you sometimes in the river and swim together.
Thank you, students, for your participation, hard work and enthusiasm in protecting and defending the endangered species of Belize!