Hicatee – AKA Central American River Turtle


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 was ranked 15th in the report Turtles in Trouble:  The World’s 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2011, by the Turtle Conservation Coalition.

Seven eggs successfully hatched between June 14 and June 18.

Seven Hicatee turtles hatched in June 2015 – representing the first successful offspring for the HCRC.

After a country-wide survey conducted by The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)  to determine the status of the Hicatee in Belize in 2010, the TSA began to collaborate with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE) to launch a multi-prong conservation effort to halt the decline of this important species. The following year, TSA, BFREE, and the Fisheries department co-sponsored a two day symposium to bring together stakeholders to discuss and formulate a strategy for future Hicatee conservation efforts. One of the outcomes of the symposium led to the formation of the Hicatee Conservation Network (HCN). The HCN established three primary focal areas for Dermatemys conservation in Belize:  education and outreach, legislation and enforcement, and science. Since its inception, network members have conducted environmental awareness activities, educational programs at local schools, conducted patrols to monitor for illegal Hicatee harvesting, and developed and created educational materials such as Hicatee coloring books, stickers, Hicatee tattoos, billboards, and radio spots on Love FM.

Rick Hudson, President of the TSA, holding a female subadult Hicatee turtle during a recent visit to the HCRC

Rick Hudson, President of the TSA, holding a female subadult Hicatee turtle during a recent visit to the HCRC.

Additionally, in 2011, in response for the need to further help to secure the future survival of the Hicatee in Belize and after considerable planning, TSA in collaboration with BFREE began the construction of the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC). The HCRC is located at the BFREE biological field station located adjacent to the Bladen Nature Reserve in the northern Toledo District of Belize. The goal of the HCRC is to investigate the reproductive biology of the Central American river turtle, Dermatemys mawii, in captivity, and to test the feasibility of large scale captive management.

Over the past few years we have built two large breeding ponds and associated infrastructure to support the breeding program. It has been our hope that captive hatched turtles should 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 farming Hicatee that can be implemented easily throughout Belize and the entirety of their range.


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.



  1. News from Belize | Sewanee Herbarium
    May 30, 2014

    […] took a tour of the facilities; they have a cacao farm and a turtle pond as well. The turtle is the Hicatee, and it is an endangered species in the rainforest. They have a huge electrified fence to keep big […]

  2. Kerry Bowman
    November 28, 2016

    hello, i am a conservationist doing much work internationally with UNEP(United Nations Environment Program) and Jane Goodall Institute . i am soon travelling to Belize, i would love to briefly visit the Hicatee project if that is possible. i did send an email previously but not sure if it got though

    best wishes

    Kerry Bowman


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