By Debi Willoughby, owner of Jungle Encounters
Jungle Encounters is conducting a long term field research project at BFREE using trail cameras to gather information about the five species of wild cats native to Belize. The mission is to use this data to develop and maintain conservation practices throughout Belize that will benefit both the native wildlife as well as the local people. The owners of Jungle Encounters visit BFREE 2-3 times a year to maintain the trail cameras and meet with BFREE’s staff to discuss the progress of this project. BFREE’s head ranger, Sipriano Canti, is in charge of maintaining the cameras year-round and provides Jungle Encounters with critical information to keep the project moving forward.
Jungle Encounters recently invited a group of people to BFREE to help with the project. The trip began with an “initiation” into BFREE by hiking the 6 mile long trail that leads to BFREE’s compound. It was a long, rain-soaked walk that introduced the group to the different habitats surrounding BFREE. After a brief rest and time to dry off, the team had a course on trail cameras, how they work and how to use them. This allowed the team to prepare the trail cameras to be put out in the field. Early the next morning the team, guided by Sipriano Canti, hiked the jungle trails looking for locations to set out the cameras. As we hiked, Canti taught us about the flora and fauna of the jungle and pointed out wildlife that we came across. It was an enlightening hike!
After getting the cameras set up in the jungle, the team took a break from talking about wild cats to learn about the turtle conservation work BFREE is involved in. Jacob Marlin brought us to their Hicatee Conservation and Research Center to learn about the amazing work BFREE has been doing with the endangered Hicatee Turtle. It was a delight to learn how successful BFREE has been with this conservation work!
The team kept Canti busy with jungle night hikes and an early morning climb up the tower to watch the wild birds start their morning flight over the awaking jungle. We saw a kinkajou, family of howler monkeys, fer-de-lance, tayra, multiple birds and even heard a jaguar calling by the river!
The rest of the trip involved maintaining the trail cameras, reviewing camera data and learning how to analyze it; enjoying a refreshing swim in the Bladen River which is surrounded by jungle life; relaxing in hammocks in the compound and brainstorming on how to improve the wild cat project.
The team left with a greater understanding of our wild cat research, a new respect for Belize and it’s wildlife and unique lifelong memories that they will share forever!