The Central American River Turtle, Dermatemys mawii, is a large, aquatic freshwater turtle found along the coastal lowlands of southern Mexico, northern Guatemala and Belize. Locally known in Belize as the Hicatee, D. mawii has been intensely harvested for its meat. It has been virtually eliminated from much of its former range in southern Mexico, while its status in Guatemala remains unclear. The lone surviving representative of the family Dermatemydidae, D. mawii, is a unique evolutionary lineage. Classified as Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction) by the IUCN Red List, it is ranked 15th in the report Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2011, by the Turtle Conservation Coalition.
After a country-wide survey conducted by The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and BFREE to determine the status of the Hicatee in Belize in 2010, the BFREE/TSA partnership began to launch a multi-prong conservation effort to halt the decline of the
species. Shortly after the field surveys, BFREE and TSA along with the Belize Fisheries Department co-hosted a workshop in December, 2010 that led to the formation of the National Hicatee Conservation and Monitoring Network (NHCMN). TSA approached BFREE during this time and planning began to construct the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC) at BFREE, to create an assurance colony and investigate the reproductive biology and feasibility of breeding Hicatee in captivity.
Starting in 2011, construction of the HCRC began. Currently, two large breeding ponds and associated infrastructure have been built to support the breeding program. The HCRC currently houses 57 Hicatee: 17 adult males, 23 adult females, 5 unknown sub-adults, and 12 hatchlings bred at the facility (7 from 2015 and 5 from 2016). Successful reproduction began almost immediately after project implementation. One clutch of eggs was deposited in December 2014, one in 2015, and 10 in 2016-17. A total of 12 clutches (120 eggs) have been deposited since the program began. The hope is that captive hatched turtles could be available to restock depleted wild populations, create new populations, and at the same time take pressure off of wild populations by developing sustainable methods for breeding Hicatee that can be implemented easily throughout Belize and the entirety of their range.
Articles and Reports:
Rick Hudson, Jacob Marlin and Heather Barrett (2016). Turtle Survival.
Heather Barrett (2015). Hicatee Conservation and Research Center Produces First Hatchlings. Turtle Survival, 36-37. For the entire magazine, see here.
Jacob Marlin and Heather Barrett (2014) Endangered Turtles Find a Home at the New Hicatee Conservation and Research Center in Belize. Turtle Survival. For the entire magazine, see here.
Jacob Marlin (2013) Local Belize Businesses Step Up to Support Hicatee Conservation. Turtle Survival, 47-48. For the entire magazine, see here.
Jacob Marlin (2012) Hicatee Conservation Research Center Takes Shape in Belize. Turtle Survival, 46-47. For the entire magazine, see here.
Thomas Rainwater, Jacob Marlin, Rick Hudson and Steve Platt (2011) Forging Partnerships in Belize to Protect the Hicatee: A Team Building Approach to Conservation. Turtle Survival, 82-85. For the entire magazine, see here.
Thomas Rainwater, Tom Pop, Octavio Cal, Steve Platt, and Rick Hudson (2010) Catalyzing Conservation Action in Belize for Central America’s River Turtle. Turtle Survival, 79-82. For the entire magazine, see here.