New Rearing Pond at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center

Designed to study the reproductive biology and to determine if the Central American River turtle could be bred in captivity, the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center opened in 2014 and was met with immediate success when, in the summer of 2015, the first seven hatchlings emerged. This was followed by five hatchlings in 2016, 84 hatchlings in 2017, and 179 in 2018.

The extrusion welder was used to join hard plastic pond liner

The HCRC originally included two large breeding ponds, an overflow pond and several rearing tanks. The small rearing tanks at the center quickly reached capacity and HCRC staff identified an urgent need to provide the necessary space and improved environment for the 2018 hatchlings and the soon to arrive 2019 cohort. After much discussion, it was determined that converting the overflow pond into a large rearing pond for hatchlings and juveniles was the most cost effective and quickest solution to housing all the expected hatchlings now and in the foreseeable future.

We secured funding from Oklahoma City’s Zoo’s Care Grant Program and from Zoo New England to begin pond modifications. Additional support was provided through funding for supplies offered by Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2018 and the purchase of a very important piece of machinery was made possible thanks to proceeds from the Turtle Survival Alliance’s 2018 fundraising auction.

Pond modification was slow to get underway due a very wet rainy season. However, during February and March construction took place and 140 turtles were placed in their new home in April. The rearing pond (Pond C) is forty-feet in diameter and approximately six-feet deep at the center. A six-foot perimeter fence will encircle the pond and fresh water is provided by solar powered pumps which were already in place at the facility. We will modify Pond C in the coming months to include a floating island and the planting of food trees and grasses as has been done in Ponds A and B. Our hope is that the facility will offer a healthy environment for all hatchlings produced at the HCRC until they are ready for release into the wild.  

Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance for their continued partnership on the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. Thanks also to project sponsors: Oklahoma City Zoo, Zoo New England and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Land Snail Workshop at BFREE

Dan and Judy Dourson led a two-day workshop in the new BFREE classroom

The first workshop on the Land Snails of Belize was led by biologists, Dan and Judy Dourson, and took place at the BFREE field station in late February. The workshop’s goal was to give participants an understanding of which snails can be found in southern Belize and to train them to identify land snails with the help of  the materials that the Dourson’s created. These materials include the newly published book “Land Snails of Belize: A Remarkable Chronicle of Diversity and Function” and the associated Field Identification card.  

Students used Field ID cards to begin to identify snails

The course was designed for tour guides and educators and therefore focused on the importance of land snails in the environment, described why they matter in Belize, and also provided great examples of how to use snails in short lessons. During this hands-on workshop, the group searched for, collected, and learned to identify and sort snails.

Participants included NGO representatives, tour guides and interested members of the public. These included: Morgan Lucot, Sipriano Canti, Christian Bech, Jaren Serano, Marten Ack, Andres Chen, Rousana Romero, Marleni Coy Emillian, Joaquin Obando, Andrew Choco, and Leanne Knox.

Special thanks to Leanne Knox for providing transportation to the BFREE Field Station for workshop participants.

Due to the interest in this course, BFREE and the Dourson’s plan to partner to create future workshops on Belize’s lesser known creatures in coming years. Stay tuned!

Land Snails of Belize: A Remarkable Chronicle of Diversity and Function,” is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to use Amazon Smile to support BFREE while shopping online. The associated Land Snail Field Identification Cards are available for sale at the Belize Zoo and the BFREE field station.

Identifying Land Snails 

Searching through leaf litter to find and collect snails



Land Snails that were previously collected

Participants of the 2019 Land Snail Workshop at BFREE


Wild Cat Research is Alive and Well at BFREE!

Jungle Encounters owners, Debi and Ed Willoughby and their group pose in front of a ceiba tree at the BFREE Field Station.

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!

A jaguar captured on a Jungle Encounters field cam at the BFREE Field Station.

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!