Bi-annual Hicatee Health Assessments at BFREE

Dr. Isabelle and Dr. Jacobson do a full health review of a one-year-old Hicatee turtle

A team of veterinarians, zookeepers, researchers, and wildlife enthusiasts traveled to BFREE to perform health assessments on the turtles at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center.  Our fall health check occurs when females likely have eggs, which allows the team to perform ultrasounds and determine the reproductive status of the turtles.

Health Assessment Team: Back row (L to R) Elliott Jacobson, Cayle Pearson, Isabelle Paquet-Durand, Rich Zerilli, Stephanie Verhulst, Nichole Bishop. Front row – Heather Barrett, Saul Bauer, Tom Pop, Jacob Marlin, and Jaren Serano (not pictured Eric Anderson and Gianni Martinez)

Day 1 Examinations were performed on the 2017 and 2018 hatchlings. Under the guidance of Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, a veterinarian at Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC), and Dr. Elliott Jacobson, professor and veterinarian emeritus at University of Florida, each juvenile was weighed, measured and given a thorough exam which included careful assessment of warts and abscesses identified during previous examinations. Overall, turtles showed positive growth rates and reduction in skin problems.

The 2018 hatchlings were examined next – the veterinarians reviewed each of the 169 turtles which had already been weighed and measured on the 4th of September. Hatchlings also showed positive growth and good overall health.

Day 2 Adults and sub-adults were netted from Pond B in the morning and Pond A in the afternoon. Forty-four animals were measured and weighed and given general health examinations. All breeding sized females also underwent ultrasounds to determine the presence of follicles and eggs. One of the adult turtles eluded the nets, as did all the captive-born three and four-year-olds.

Gianni Martinez, teacher at St. Mary’s School in Belize City and author of “Herbert the Hickatee” joined the assessments on Day 2. 

Day 3 –  Because Dr. Jacobson was on-site to offer professional development training to HCRC staff, he presented a talk on “Zoological Medicine,” to the group.  Other lectures he gave throughout the weekend included “Animal Husbandry,” and “Reptile Collecting and Field Methods.”

Data collected during these assessments will add to the ongoing data set being constructed by staff of the HCRC.

Additional photos of the Fall Health Check can be found here: Flickr page.

Thanks to the Turtle Survival Alliance for providing funding for the Fall Health Assessments, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for loaning the portable ultrasound machine, and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for providing turtle diet for continued feeding experimentation on the hatchlings. Additionally, thanks the team who contributed time, energy and knowledge to this fall’s assessment: Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, Dr. Elliott Jacobson, Thomas Pop, Jaren Serano, Nichole Bishop, Saul Bauer, Cayle Pearson, Stephanie Verhulst, Gianni Martinez, Richard Zerilli, Eric Anderson, Jacob Marlin, Heather Barrett and Hyla Marlin.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Hicatee Images for Facebook!

Want another great way to show your support for turtle conservation during Hicatee Awareness Month? Want to be a #HicateeHero? Use one of these turtley amazing Hicatee images as your Facebook cover photo! It’s as easy as 1 – 2 – 3!  

  1. 1. Right click one of the images below and save it to your computer.
  2. 2. Open Facebook and hover your mouse over your current cover photo until the box appears that says “Change Cover.”
  3. 3. Click the “Change Cover” box  then select “Upload Photo” and upload your the new image from your computer.
Adult Male Hicatee Turtle. Photo Credit: Dustin Smith
Hicatee Hatchling. Photo credit: Carol Farneti Foster
Two Hatchlings. Photo credit: Heather Barrett
Freckles the first Hicatee Hatchling at the HCRC. Photo credit: Heather Barrett
Take the Hicatee pledge!

Don’t forget to snap a #shellfie and make it your profile pic for October 17 – National Hicatee Day!

Take the Hicatee Pledge!

Earlier last year, BFREE Program Coordinator, Tyler Sanville, stitched together the “SAVE THE HICATEE” banner while on a visit to the Field Station. She cut letters out of old bed sheets and sewed them on one by one. The banner was first signed by Natural Resource Management students from Independence Junior College. 

The banner quickly became a symbol for all of those who have taken the ‘Hicatee Pledge’ to show their support. The pledge is an agreement that communicates shared conservation goals for the critically endangered turtle.

Today, the banner is covered with signatures from visitors to the Field Station and supporters of the ‘Hicatee Pledge’ at the Turtle Survival Alliance Conference held earlier this summer. 

Now is your chance to have your name added to the “SAVE THE HICATEE” banner! Help us reach our goal of adding an additional 1,000 signatures during Hicatee Awareness Month. 

Taking the pledge is easy! Read the pledge below, then upload a #shellfie of yourself wearing something green for the hicatee turtle. Use hashtags #Shellfie and #SaveTheHicatee so that we see it! 

Thank you to all of our Hicatee Heroes that have already taken the pledge and signed the banner.

The hicatee is disappearing, but TOGETHER we can save it! 

International Turtle Conservation and Biology Symposium

The Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC) was featured in the 15th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Fresh Water Turtles.  The meeting, which is the largest gathering of non-marine turtle biologists in the world, was held in historic Charleston, South Carolina and attended by over 300 participants.

Heather Barrett and Peter Paul van Dijk at the Turtle Survival Center. Peter Paul was honored during the symposium with the John L. Behler Turtle Conservation Award

Turtle Survival Center Field Trip

Field trip participants visited enclosures throughout the Turtle Survival Center

The pre-symposium field trip to the new Turtle Survival Center was a highlight. The TSC is owned by Turtle Survival Alliance and represents a new and important direction for the organization. The Center is a captive setting for turtle and tortoise species that are critically endangered and that face an uncertain future in the wild. The TSC is dedicated to building up robust captive populations of these species. On Sunday, hundreds of participants were bused from the conference hotel to the TSC in order to tour the Center’s many facilities including the various complexes, the incubation room, and areas that are still being developed.

Hicatee Presentations

Symposium activities officially began on Monday. BFREE staff were honored to be invited to present the latest news and outcomes at the HCRC.  As part of the Captive Husbandry session, Jacob Marlin detailed the development of the HCRC as a facility and described what has been learned on site about the reproductive biology of the Hicatee.

Heather Barrett presented “Country-wide Efforts to Promote the Conservation of the Critically Endangered Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii) in Belize, Central America.” She outlined the recent history of conservation outreach for the hicatee including the formation of the Hicatee Conservation Network and the

Each TSA project country is featured in a poster at the Turtle Survival Center

production of a documentary film. Heather’s session was followed by a special film screening of “Hope for Belize’s Hicatee: Central American River Turtle.” This was the first time the new documentary by Richard and Carol Foster was shown publicly. “Hope for Belize’s Hicatee,” was well received by the audience who was eager to view rare underwater footage of the turtle and appreciated the breadth of information covered in the short film.

In addition to BFREE staff presenting HCRC findings at the conference, Nichole Bishop, Ph.D. Candidate from the University of Florida, described her research related to the 2017 hicatee hatchlings in her talk, “Is Coprophagy an Important Management Decision for the Captive Breeding of Herbivorous Turtles?”

The symposium offered many opportunities for conversations and brainstorming on issues relating to the hicatee and other endangered turtles and tortoises. The symposium was an uplifting and inspirational event and BFREE staff left feeling impressed by the countless individuals dedicating their lives to the conservation of turtle species around the globe.

 

Hicatee Awareness Month

We are thrilled to announce this October as the First Annual Hicatee Awareness Month! 

To kick off the month, the Turtle Survival Alliance, BFREE and Wildlife Film Productions will be releasing an exciting documentary providing a rare glimpse of the critically endangered hicatee turtle on October 2, 2017.

‘Hope for Belize’s Hicatee: Central American River Turtle,’ is a 16-minute natural history film produced by Emmy-award winning wildlife filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster. The critically endangered Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), known in Belize as the Hicatee, has been intensely harvested for its meat. The film highlights the cultural significance of the hicatee in Belize, the environmental pressures propelling it toward extinction as well as the current work being done in Belize to save the species.

Make sure to save the date and begin telling your friends and family now! Once the film is released, we encourage you to host a viewing party at your home or in your community.

A Volunteer Toolkit will be made available in late September on the BFREE website. The Toolkit will include materials and info sheets for you to use at your viewing party. It will also include many ways to partake in the Hicatee Awareness Month.

Save the Date: 

October 2 – On World Habitat Day, ‘Hope for Belize’s Hicatee: Central American River Turtle,’ film will be released. Begin gathering your friends and family for viewing parties and send us photos of your events #SaveTheHicatee!

October 17 – National Hicatee Day in Belize, show your support from around the world and send us your #Shellfie wearing something green!

October is sure to be a turtley amazing shellebration

We will continue to share updates on Hicatee Awareness Month, please follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and our new Hicatee Center page on the BFREE Website!

 

 

 

Funding for the film was generously provided by Columbus Zoo & Aquarium Conservation Fund.

The Bladen Review 2017

The fourth edition of BFREE’s annual magazine is now available in an interactive format online at Issuu! Get the latest news from the field station and learn about exciting research and educational projects taking place in and around the rainforests of Belize.

 

 

Click here to download a PDF version of The Bladen Review.