Hicatee Health Check

This year’s first Hicatee health check  took place on April 4th and 5th at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC).

The HCRC, a joint effort between BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), is a captive-breeding facility for the critically endangered Central American River Turtle (more commonly known as Hicatee). Captive-breeding offers the potential to produce offspring for release and repatriation into areas that have experienced widespread declines or extirpation. Additionally, specimens maintained in captivity provide valuable opportunities for studying aspects of the species’ reproductive biology, diet and behavior that would otherwise be difficult to observe or study in the field.

The April health checks assessed the nearly 100 hicatee turtles in captivity at the HCRC.  First, hatchlings 9 months to 2 years old followed by the 45 adults from each of the two ponds were weighed, measured (plastrons, carapace, tail, and nails), checked for overall physical conditions, and reproductive evaluations were performed.

The team consisted of Dewey Maddox, Veterinary nurse, and Emily Fyfe, Senior Herpetology Keeper, from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Robert Mendyk, Curator of Herpetology at the Audubon Zoo, Dr. Isabel Paquet-Durand, founder and director of the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, Dr. Raymond Carthy, Nichole Bishop and Dr. Sean Sharp from the University of Florida, Vanessa Kilburn from Toucan Ridge Ecology & Education Society, and Jacob Marlin, Heather Barrett, Tom Pop, Jaren Serano and Tyler Sanville of BFREE, as well as volunteers Will Jones and Tybren Vialdores and Aimee Mitchell.

BFREE aims to complete bi-annual health checks on the turtles housed at the HCRC to help further inform and influence conservation strategies and actions. The next health check is scheduled for September 2018.

Currently, Dermatemys mawii is classified as Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the near future) by the International Union for Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), listed as endangered under the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Special note for our friends in the US: If you find yourself near The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, be sure to visit the Emerald Valley Aviary where you can see three hicatee, the only place in the US where this rare and unusual turtle is on exhibit.

 

Soaring with Solar

After 23 years of BFREE being an off-the-grid solar powered field station, nothing has changed, except now we have a centralized 7.5 kw state of the art solar system which is 7 -10 times more productive and has energy storage capacity more than 20 times what was on-site before. The system also has a backup autofunctioning natural gas generator for times when the sun just isn’t shining.

The system was designed by Rick Groves of Clean Energy Events based in Wilmington, N.C., USA, and Jacob Marlin. Additional design and technical assistance was provided by Wes Gubitz, as well as Marco Valle of Pro Solar Engineering based in Belmopan, Belize.

The installation took place during the first week of March. Pro Solar staff installed the photovoltaic panels, batteries, inverters, and controllers as well as the backup generator while Jacob Marlin, Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr, plus all the staff of BFREE  laid wire and set up breaker boxes at various locations around BFREE. Of course, there were weeks of prep work in advance with BFREE staff digging trenches and pouring cement footings for the installation of panels, a cinder block and cement generator house, and a power house that houses all of the electrical components (the brains of the system).

During the week of installation, everyone around the field station stepped up to help. Even students from Lees-McRae College pitched in during their field course when it was time to pull wire across the garden. After the installation, Pro Solar Engineer, Marco Valle, returned to BFREE to offer an afternoon training session on renewable energy and maintenance of the system for staff. 

In the coming months, power will continue to reach additional buildings around the field station and all visitors will begin to benefit from this important and timely upgrade. This includes more lighting, fans, charging stations, and a multitude of other improvements to the infrastructure of the field station.

BFREE wishes to express much gratitude to Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr for their hard work, and positive attitude to ensure the installation went perfectly! The Pro Solar team was extremely professional and skilled. The resulting system has surpassed our expectations and we are thrilled by the immediate and obvious benefits to all station users. 

Special thanks to Dr. James Rotenberg and students in his Fall 2016 Environmental Studies class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. They created an initial design for the solar system as part of their semester long project on sustainability.

Soaring with Solar

After 23 years of BFREE being an off-the-grid solar powered field station, nothing has changed, except now we have a centralized 7.5 kw state of the art solar system which is 7 -10 times more productive and has energy storage capacity more than 20 times what was on-site before. The system also has a backup autofunctioning natural gas generator for times when the sun just isn’t shining.

The system was designed by Rick Groves of Clean Energy Events based in Wilmington, N.C., USA, and Jacob Marlin. Additional design and technical assistance was provided by Wes Gubitz, as well as Marco Valle of Pro Solar Engineering based in Belmopan, Belize.

The installation took place during the first week of March. Pro Solar staff installed the photovoltaic panels, batteries, inverters, and controllers as well as the backup generator while Jacob Marlin, Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr, plus all the staff of BFREE  laid wire and set up breaker boxes at various locations around BFREE. Of course, there were weeks of prep work in advance with BFREE staff digging trenches and pouring cement footings for the installation of panels, a cinder block and cement generator house, and a power house that houses all of the electrical components (the brains of the system).

During the week of installation, everyone around the field station stepped up to help. Even students from Lees-McRae College pitched in during their field course when it was time to pull wire across the garden. After the installation, Pro Solar Engineer, Marco Valle, returned to BFREE to offer an afternoon training session on renewable energy and maintenance of the system for staff. 

In the coming months, power will continue to reach additional buildings around the field station and all visitors will begin to benefit from this important and timely upgrade. This includes more lighting, fans, charging stations, and a multitude of other improvements to the infrastructure of the field station.

BFREE wishes to express much gratitude to Rick Groves, Wes Gubitz, Glen Dell, and Beth Furr for their hard work, and positive attitude to ensure the installation went perfectly! The Pro Solar team was extremely professional and skilled. The resulting system has surpassed our expectations and we are thrilled by the immediate and obvious benefits to all station users. 

Special thanks to Dr. James Rotenberg and students in his Fall 2016 Environmental Studies class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. They created an initial design for the solar system as part of their semester long project on sustainability.

Hicatee Health Check

This year’s first Hicatee health check  took place on April 4th and 5th at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC).

The HCRC, a joint effort between BFREE and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), is a captive-breeding facility for the critically endangered Central American River Turtle (more commonly known as Hicatee). Captive-breeding offers the potential to produce offspring for release and repatriation into areas that have experienced widespread declines or extirpation. Additionally, specimens maintained in captivity provide valuable opportunities for studying aspects of the species’ reproductive biology, diet and behavior that would otherwise be difficult to observe or study in the field.

The April health checks assessed the nearly 100 hicatee turtles in captivity at the HCRC.  First, hatchlings 9 months to 2 years old followed by the 45 adults from each of the two ponds were weighed, measured (plastrons, carapace, tail, and nails), checked for overall physical conditions, and reproductive evaluations were performed.

The team consisted of Dewey Maddox, Veterinary nurse, and Emily Fyfe, Senior Herpetology Keeper, from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Robert Mendyk, Curator of Herpetology at the Audubon Zoo, Dr. Isabel Paquet-Durand, founder and director of the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, Dr. Raymond Carthy, Nichole Bishop and Dr. Sean Sharp from the University of Florida, Vanessa Kilburn from Toucan Ridge Ecology & Education Society, and Jacob Marlin, Heather Barrett, Tom Pop, Jaren Serano and Tyler Sanville of BFREE, as well as volunteers Will Jones and Tybren Vialdores and Aimee Mitchell.

BFREE aims to complete bi-annual health checks on the turtles housed at the HCRC to help further inform and influence conservation strategies and actions. The next health check is scheduled for September 2018.

Currently, Dermatemys mawii is classified as Critically Endangered (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the near future) by the International Union for Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), listed as endangered under the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Special note for our friends in the US: If you find yourself near The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, be sure to visit the Emerald Valley Aviary where you can see three hicatee, the only place in the US where this rare and unusual turtle is on exhibit.

Instagram Takeover featuring Justin Brown

@BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover: Sharing Real Experiences from the People & Wildlife at BFREE

The BFREE Biological Research Station and privately protected area in southern Belize host numerous student study abroad courses, volunteers, researchers and scientist from around the world each year. Our remote location in the rainforest means our visitors must unplug from their devices and aren’t able to instantly share their experiences with the rest of the world. We are excited to announce the launch of  @BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover: Sharing Real Experiences from the People & Wildlife at BFREE. Now our visitors are given a chance to share their stories and photos once they have returned home and bring us along as they reminisce on the good, bad and beautiful! 

Learn about the real experiences, obstacles and adventures had by these visitors through the stories and photos they share directly to our account. Like their photos, ask them questions, follow along! 

 

@BFREEBZ INSTAGRAM TAKEOVER FEATURING JUSTIN BROWN! 

 

Our first participant is Justin Brown from Williamsburg, Kentucky. Justin recently visited Belize on a field course through the biology department at the University of the Cumberlands where he is currently a student. His group spent a week at BFREE where they study rodent populations in the shade-grown cacao agroforest. 

We asked Justin a few questions so we could all get to know him a bit better. Check out what he had to say about his time in Belize below and be sure to follow along on Instagram at @BFREEBZ beginning tomorrow to catch all of his photos until Friday! 

 

  • What was your favorite part about the trip and why?

I honestly don’t know if I could pick a favorite part. I really did enjoy myself quite a bit. I absolutely love nature and wildlife, and I think the amazing diversity of plant and animal life that I saw was just spectacular. Walking through the forest and suddenly hearing a howler monkey, or seeing tapir tracks, or catching a beautiful bird fluttering across your path is one of the things that makes BFREE, for lack of a better word, magical. Another thing I really enjoyed, and I think is overlooked, was “unplugging.” The fact that there was no way I was going to get service or Wi-Fi no matter where I went, was actually kind of relaxing. I wasn’t constantly checking my phone, the news, or my bank account, and I swear my blood pressure was the lowest it’s been in years!

  • What did you learn while you were there and how do you hope to further use that knowledge?

I learned plenty about ecology, conservation, and the difficulty faced by those who are trying to conserve our rainforests and biodiversity. It’s made me want to be a much more active participant in fighting for our natural habitats rather than just an armchair activist. I also learned a lot about the rewards of hard work and persistence. There were many a morning that I didn’t want to get out of bed and start hiking and checking rodent traps, but I did and I never regretted it. I was always rewarded by a novel animal sighting or a beautiful moment like the sunrise hitting the canopy. It was always worth it to keep going.

  • What was your favorite animal?

That’s a really tough question. I think I liked all of them. Hearing the howlers was amazing, and seeing a blue-capped motmot with its tail that looks like something out of Harry Potter was quite awesome too. If I had to pick though, I would have to go with the boat-billed heron. It was like looking at a creature that Dr. Seuss dreamt up; they were something else. They look like a bird with a sunflower seed for a beak, coal for eyes, and like they wear a toupee. Not to mention, the sound they make is kind of comical as well. They were just fun creatures to watch.

  • What was your favorite plant or tree?

Same here. The plants were just beautiful and very much bountiful. I think it would be between the gumbo-limbo tree and the heliconia flowers (or lobster-claws). The gumbo-limbo tree sheds its bark, and it honestly looks like thin, red paper. But I think the heliconia would be my favorite. Besides being beautiful, hanging flowers, it’s a favorite of hummingbirds. So not only do you get to look at a gorgeous set of flowers, if you wait by long enough, you can also watch some hummingbirds.

  • Do you plan on going back?

Oh goodness, if they would have given me some clean clothes, I probably would have stayed another week. I definitely want to go back. I also feel that I would be better prepared with what I know to expect now. I want to go back as soon as I can.

Thanks, Justin! We can’t wait to learn even more about you and your time at BFREE during your @BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover from February 13-16, 2018! 

Want to be our next Instagram Takeover participant, learn more below: 

How it works: Starting on #TakeoverTuesday a selected participant will gain full access to the @BFREEBZ Instagram account. They will share for the rest of the week personal stories along with the photos they took while in Belize. Like their photos, ask them questions, and learn about the people and wildlife that make our special place in the rainforest so unique. 

Want to participate: It’s easy! If you have traveled to BFREE and would like to share with our community your experiences through the photos you took, then send us an email and we will add you to the schedule! Email: contact@bfreebz.org

Instagram Takeover featuring Justin Brown

@BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover: Sharing Real Experiences from the People & Wildlife at BFREE

The BFREE Biological Research Station and privately protected area in southern Belize host numerous student study abroad courses, volunteers, researchers and scientist from around the world each year. Our remote location in the rainforest means our visitors must unplug from their devices and aren’t able to instantly share their experiences with the rest of the world. We are excited to announce the launch of  @BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover: Sharing Real Experiences from the People & Wildlife at BFREE. Now our visitors are given a chance to share their stories and photos once they have returned home and bring us along as they reminisce on the good, bad and beautiful! 

Learn about the real experiences, obstacles and adventures had by these visitors through the stories and photos they share directly to our account. Like their photos, ask them questions, follow along! 

@BFREEBZ INSTAGRAM TAKEOVER FEATURING JUSTIN BROWN! 

Our first participant is Justin Brown from Williamsburg, Kentucky. Justin recently visited Belize on a field course through the biology department at the University of the Cumberlands where he is currently a student. His group spent a week at BFREE where they study rodent populations in the shade-grown cacao agroforest. 

We asked Justin a few questions so we could all get to know him a bit better. Check out what he had to say about his time in Belize below and be sure to follow along on Instagram at @BFREEBZ beginning tomorrow to catch all of his photos until Friday! 

  • What was your favorite part about the trip and why?

I honestly don’t know if I could pick a favorite part. I really did enjoy myself quite a bit. I absolutely love nature and wildlife, and I think the amazing diversity of plant and animal life that I saw was just spectacular. Walking through the forest and suddenly hearing a howler monkey, or seeing tapir tracks, or catching a beautiful bird fluttering across your path is one of the things that makes BFREE, for lack of a better word, magical. Another thing I really enjoyed, and I think is overlooked, was “unplugging.” The fact that there was no way I was going to get service or Wi-Fi no matter where I went, was actually kind of relaxing. I wasn’t constantly checking my phone, the news, or my bank account, and I swear my blood pressure was the lowest it’s been in years!

  • What did you learn while you were there and how do you hope to further use that knowledge?

I learned plenty about ecology, conservation, and the difficulty faced by those who are trying to conserve our rainforests and biodiversity. It’s made me want to be a much more active participant in fighting for our natural habitats rather than just an armchair activist. I also learned a lot about the rewards of hard work and persistence. There were many a morning that I didn’t want to get out of bed and start hiking and checking rodent traps, but I did and I never regretted it. I was always rewarded by a novel animal sighting or a beautiful moment like the sunrise hitting the canopy. It was always worth it to keep going.

  • What was your favorite animal?

That’s a really tough question. I think I liked all of them. Hearing the howlers was amazing, and seeing a blue-capped motmot with its tail that looks like something out of Harry Potter was quite awesome too. If I had to pick though, I would have to go with the boat-billed heron. It was like looking at a creature that Dr. Seuss dreamt up; they were something else. They look like a bird with a sunflower seed for a beak, coal for eyes, and like they wear a toupee. Not to mention, the sound they make is kind of comical as well. They were just fun creatures to watch.

  • What was your favorite plant or tree?

Same here. The plants were just beautiful and very much bountiful. I think it would be between the gumbo-limbo tree and the heliconia flowers (or lobster-claws). The gumbo-limbo tree sheds its bark, and it honestly looks like thin, red paper. But I think the heliconia would be my favorite. Besides being beautiful, hanging flowers, it’s a favorite of hummingbirds. So not only do you get to look at a gorgeous set of flowers, if you wait by long enough, you can also watch some hummingbirds.

  • Do you plan on going back?

Oh goodness, if they would have given me some clean clothes, I probably would have stayed another week. I definitely want to go back. I also feel that I would be better prepared with what I know to expect now. I want to go back as soon as I can.

Thanks, Justin! We can’t wait to learn even more about you and your time at BFREE during your @BFREEBZ Instagram Takeover from February 13-16, 2018! 

Want to be our next Instagram Takeover participant, learn more below: 

How it works: Starting on #TakeoverTuesday a selected participant will gain full access to the @BFREEBZ Instagram account. They will share for the rest of the week personal stories along with the photos they took while in Belize. Like their photos, ask them questions, and learn about the people and wildlife that make our special place in the rainforest so unique. 

Want to participate: It’s easy! If you have traveled to BFREE and would like to share with our community your experiences through the photos you took, then send us an email and we will add you to the schedule! Email: contact@bfreebz.org

Film Viewings

BFREE Summer Interns Manuel Balona (back row left) and Jaren Serano (seated center) at Esperanza Primary School in Cayo, Belize

October has been filled with exciting Hicatee events in Belize and in the U.S. We are grateful to our dedicated partners in conservation and education who work tirelessly to ensure that their communities learn the value of protecting Belize’s treasured wildlife.

Film viewing events serve audiences of all ages. Activities during events include an introduction to the hicatee turtle, questions to determine existing knowledge about the species, a viewing of the 16-minute film, post questions to determine knowledge learned with prizes for correct answers and an opportunity to take the Hicatee pledge. 

A young student signs the Hicatee banner.
Two Esperanza students hold a Save the Hicatee banner created by Manuel Balona

Featured Events:

September 28, 2017, Wilmington Art Hive Gallery & Studio, Wilmington, North Carolina. Hosts: Clean Energy Events and Art Hive

October 10, 2017, Esperanza Primary School, Cayo. Hosts: Sacred Heart Junior College and BFREE.

October 12, 2017, Placencia Village.  Hosts: Crocodile Research CoalitionSouthern Environmental Association and Fragments of Hope

October 13, 2017, Ocean Academy, Caye Caulker. Hosts: Crocodile Research Coalition, FAMRACC and Ocean Academy

October 13, 2017, Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society, Alta Vista. Host: T.R.E.E.S. 

October 17 – National Hicatee Day, The Environmental Research Institute at University of Belize is hosting a film event at noon in the Jaguar Auditorium.

October 17 – The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, South Carolina will do a special film viewing in their Turtle Recovery Theater.

Dates TBD  – Cayo Public Schools and Sacred Heart Junior College Campus. Hosts: Sacred Heart Junior College/ Environmental Assessment Class.

Dates TBD  – Independence Junior College Campus. Hosts: Independence Junior College. Natural Resource Management Class.

Film Viewings

BFREE Summer Interns Manuel Balona (back row left) and Jaren Serano (seated center) at Esperanza Primary School in Cayo, Belize

October has been filled with exciting Hicatee events in Belize and in the U.S. We are grateful to our dedicated partners in conservation and education who work tirelessly to ensure that their communities learn the value of protecting Belize’s treasured wildlife.

Film viewing events serve audiences of all ages. Activities during events include an introduction to the hicatee turtle, questions to determine existing knowledge about the species, a viewing of the 16-minute film, post questions to determine knowledge learned with prizes for correct answers and an opportunity to take the Hicatee pledge. 

A young student signs the Hicatee banner.

Two Esperanza students hold a Save the Hicatee banner created by Manuel Balona

Featured Events:

September 28, 2017, Wilmington Art Hive Gallery & Studio, Wilmington, North Carolina. Hosts: Clean Energy Events and Art Hive

October 10, 2017, Esperanza Primary School, Cayo. Hosts: Sacred Heart Junior College and BFREE.

October 12, 2017, Placencia Village.  Hosts: Crocodile Research CoalitionSouthern Environmental Association and Fragments of Hope

October 13, 2017, Ocean Academy, Caye Caulker. Hosts: Crocodile Research Coalition, FAMRACC and Ocean Academy

October 13, 2017, Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society, Alta Vista. Host: T.R.E.E.S. 

October 17 – National Hicatee Day, The Environmental Research Institute at University of Belize is hosting a film event at noon in the Jaguar Auditorium.

October 17 – The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, South Carolina will do a special film viewing in their Turtle Recovery Theater.

Dates TBD  – Cayo Public Schools and Sacred Heart Junior College Campus. Hosts: Sacred Heart Junior College/ Environmental Assessment Class.

Dates TBD  – Independence Junior College Campus. Hosts: Independence Junior College. Natural Resource Management Class.

 

BFREE Summer Internship Reflection

BFREE Summer Internship Reflection

By: Jaren Serano

This summer I had the opportunity to be a part of something very special. I became immersed in a unique classroom with seemingly no boundaries. It all started on July 31st, 2017, this part of my internship I would like to refer to it simply as “the walk”.  I was excited about embarking on this journey, but little did I know what Mother Nature had in store for me prior to even reaching BFREE’s grounds.

From the Southern Highway, I hiked in some 8 miles. Now that may not seem like much but given that I did not pack light it seemed more like 80 miles.  While hiking I regretted several times packing so many stuff.  Although this internship took place during the summer, it was also the wet season, so saying the road was muddy would be an understatement. I had to trek through red clay mud that was at least knee deep.  After a couple hours, I eventually reached the BFREE research station looking as if I just ran the Boston Marathon.  The staff was very welcoming and helpful in getting me settled in. All in all, the walk in will forever be one of those memories that you might not appreciate in the moment but when looking back you will laugh and appreciate every footprint that was made in that red clay that day.

Turtle Conservation

The two week internship that I was blessed to be a part of consisted of daily caretaking of the hicatee turtles.  In the mornings, using a caliper, measurement of each hatchling’s carapace length was taken and recorded. Also, daily weight was taken and recorded using a digital gram scale. I was fascinated by the way how Tom Pop (HCRC Manager) showed such passion for his job. He treated each hatchling as if it was his own child. What I liked the most was in the afternoons when we would do some monitoring by the pond, it was like playing a game hide and go seek, only because the adult hicatees were the ones doing all the hiding! We were lucky if we got to see their heads popping up to the surface too quickly grab a breath of air.  When it came to feeding time I would go with Tom to the river banks where we would collect about two wheelbarrows filled with fig leaves.  The turtles would then greedily munch on the leaves which we gave them.

Jaren collects leaves to feed the hatchlings.

The hatchlings prefer much softer leaves such as the ones from young Cecropia trees. Two of the groups were offered feces (Yes, feces!) from the adults in order to inoculate them with the appropriate gut microflora. But before you get all grossed out – the presence of gut microflora is said to play an important role in the turtle’s ability to break down plant matter and absorb vital nutrients from their diet.  

I found this hands-on approach of learning very insightful because I got a chance to study close up the biological aspects of these Central American river turtles. I believe that just like humans, each hicatee has its own unique personality and special traits. They surely have a way of slowly working their way into your hearts!

While at BFREE I not only had the chance to work with the hicatees but I had the opportunity to pick Tom Pop’s mind about different wildlife around the area. BFREE is a nature lover’s playground. The diversity of flora and fauna is jaw-dropping; I soaked in every second of it all. I was very inquisitive and every day I wanted to know more because all of it was intriguing to me.  

Ranger for a Day

I also had a rare opportunity to be a ranger for the day with a fellow ranger, Mr. Sipriano Canti. This part of the internship could simply be described as “Rangers on the go!”  

Mr. Canti took Manuel Balona (another BFREE Intern ) and me to Observation Post 1 where we were educated about the purpose of the facility.  In short, it serves as a marker of the property boundary line for farmers and hunters using nearby land; this helps reduce illegal encroachment into the BFREE reserve. Along the boundary line road on the way to OP1, we noticed intensive farming of various crops such as corn, cilantro, and red kidney beans. To our surprise we also saw a huge portion of land set aside specifically for grazing and rearing of cattle, in close proximity to the reserve. A Forest Department established buffer zone separating the boundary line from the reserve helps prevent these types of agriculture from entering the reserve.

While at OP1 we took full advantage of what Mr. Canti would refer to as “the ranger lifestyle.” There we did different patrols all hours of the day and night. It was an experience that I will forever cherish.

Manuel Balona (left) and Jaren Serano (right), assist HCRC Manager, Tom Pop (center) at the HCRC.

All in all, the experience will definitely be one for the books.   Never in a million years did I believe I would be given such an opportunity to be a part of something this moving. It was great to be around people who share mutual feelings when it comes to conservation making two weeks go by too quickly. The rainforest is truly our classroom.

I will continue sharing the knowledge learned at BFREE among peers and anyone who is willing to lend an ear. I believe this internship brought me steps closer to my ultimate goal of someday becoming a zoologist and helping with various conservation efforts in my country. 

 

 

BFREE Summer Internship Reflection

BFREE Summer Internship Reflection

By: Jaren Serano

This summer I had the opportunity to be a part of something very special. I became immersed in a unique classroom with seemingly no boundaries. It all started on July 31st, 2017, this part of my internship I would like to refer to it simply as “the walk”.  I was excited about embarking on this journey, but little did I know what Mother Nature had in store for me prior to even reaching BFREE’s grounds.

From the Southern Highway, I hiked in some 8 miles. Now that may not seem like much but given that I did not pack light it seemed more like 80 miles.  While hiking I regretted several times packing so many stuff.  Although this internship took place during the summer, it was also the wet season, so saying the road was muddy would be an understatement. I had to trek through red clay mud that was at least knee deep.  After a couple hours, I eventually reached the BFREE research station looking as if I just ran the Boston Marathon.  The staff was very welcoming and helpful in getting me settled in. All in all, the walk in will forever be one of those memories that you might not appreciate in the moment but when looking back you will laugh and appreciate every footprint that was made in that red clay that day.

Turtle Conservation

The two week internship that I was blessed to be a part of consisted of daily caretaking of the hicatee turtles.  In the mornings, using a caliper, measurement of each hatchling’s carapace length was taken and recorded. Also, daily weight was taken and recorded using a digital gram scale. I was fascinated by the way how Tom Pop (HCRC Manager) showed such passion for his job. He treated each hatchling as if it was his own child. What I liked the most was in the afternoons when we would do some monitoring by the pond, it was like playing a game hide and go seek, only because the adult hicatees were the ones doing all the hiding! We were lucky if we got to see their heads popping up to the surface too quickly grab a breath of air.  When it came to feeding time I would go with Tom to the river banks where we would collect about two wheelbarrows filled with fig leaves.  The turtles would then greedily munch on the leaves which we gave them.

Jaren collects leaves to feed the hatchlings.

The hatchlings prefer much softer leaves such as the ones from young Cecropia trees. Two of the groups were offered feces (Yes, feces!) from the adults in order to inoculate them with the appropriate gut microflora. But before you get all grossed out – the presence of gut microflora is said to play an important role in the turtle’s ability to break down plant matter and absorb vital nutrients from their diet.  

I found this hands-on approach of learning very insightful because I got a chance to study close up the biological aspects of these Central American river turtles. I believe that just like humans, each hicatee has its own unique personality and special traits. They surely have a way of slowly working their way into your hearts!

While at BFREE I not only had the chance to work with the hicatees but I had the opportunity to pick Tom Pop’s mind about different wildlife around the area. BFREE is a nature lover’s playground. The diversity of flora and fauna is jaw-dropping; I soaked in every second of it all. I was very inquisitive and every day I wanted to know more because all of it was intriguing to me.  

Ranger for a Day

I also had a rare opportunity to be a ranger for the day with a fellow ranger, Mr. Sipriano Canti. This part of the internship could simply be described as “Rangers on the go!”  

Mr. Canti took Manuel Balona (another BFREE Intern ) and me to Observation Post 1 where we were educated about the purpose of the facility.  In short, it serves as a marker of the property boundary line for farmers and hunters using nearby land; this helps reduce illegal encroachment into the BFREE reserve. Along the boundary line road on the way to OP1, we noticed intensive farming of various crops such as corn, cilantro, and red kidney beans. To our surprise we also saw a huge portion of land set aside specifically for grazing and rearing of cattle, in close proximity to the reserve. A Forest Department established buffer zone separating the boundary line from the reserve helps prevent these types of agriculture from entering the reserve.

While at OP1 we took full advantage of what Mr. Canti would refer to as “the ranger lifestyle.” There we did different patrols all hours of the day and night. It was an experience that I will forever cherish.

Manuel Balona (left) and Jaren Serano (right), assist HCRC Manager, Tom Pop (center) at the HCRC.

All in all, the experience will definitely be one for the books.   Never in a million years did I believe I would be given such an opportunity to be a part of something this moving. It was great to be around people who share mutual feelings when it comes to conservation making two weeks go by too quickly. The rainforest is truly our classroom.

I will continue sharing the knowledge learned at BFREE among peers and anyone who is willing to lend an ear. I believe this internship brought me steps closer to my ultimate goal of someday becoming a zoologist and helping with various conservation efforts in my country.