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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.

First Sighting of Harpy Eagle at BFREE!

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September 9, 2016. At approximately 11:30 am, Tom Pop, Manager of the HCRC at BFREE, was doing routine work at the turtle ponds when he heard a bird call above him. Because of his training as an avian technician and his work with the BFREE bird project, Tom immediately recognized the call as that of a Harpy eagle. He quickly looked up toward the sound and identified the bird perched above him in a tall tree overlooking the ponds.

During the next several hours, Tom, and BFREE staff members Amarta (Maya) Choc and Sipriano Canti observed and photographed the large raptor. Eventually, it flew from its perch and moved through the cacao agroforest toward the BFREE kitchen where it was observed for about an hour before disappearing farther into the forest. Analysis of the pictures taken shows that the bird is a sub-adult, likely about 1.5 years old, providing evidence that the small population in the Maya Mountains is continuing to grow.

The presence of the Harpy Eagle at BFREE is big news in Belize.

The Harpy eagle is the largest bird of prey in the Americas but habitat loss and hunting have eliminated the raptor throughout most of its range across Mexico and Central America. Harpy Eagles are classified as extremely rare and endangered in Belize. Back in 2000 they were thought to be extirpated from the area, but were rediscovered in 2005 by BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington researchers.

BFREE staff  have reported a drastic increase in wildlife around the BFREE reserve recently, including large cats like pumas and jaguars, and other wildlife like peccaries and tapirs. As settlement in surrounding villages has increased, and forested areas near BFREE have decreased due to agricultural expansion, the BFREE preserve continues to play a vital role as a sanctuary for wildlife in southern Belize.

If you live in a community near BFREE and you spot a bird that might be a Harpy eagle, please call call or text Liberato Pop at 665-3788. Please be prepared to tell us where you saw the bird, what it was doing and at what time of day. Please do not try to scare or harm the bird.

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For more info on Harpy eagle research at BFREE:

First Record of a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Nest in Belize

Author(s): James A. Rotenberg, Jacob A. Marlin, Liberato Pop, and William Garcia
Source: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(2):292-297. 2012.
Published By: The Wilson Ornithological Society

Integrated Community-based Harpy Eagle and Avian Conservation Program

Between 2006 and 2014, BFREE and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington established and implemented an intensive Harpy Eagle and avian monitoring program onsite in the BFREE private reserve and in the Bladen Nature Reserve.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX5TXeGwMqo

“Wings of Hope,” is a 20 minute documentary chronicling the re-discovery of a population of wild Harpy Eagles in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize

NYCCT – Study Abroad blog

William Garcia discusses aging bats with NYCCT group

William Garcia discusses how to determine the  age of bats with NYCCT group

New York City College of Technology (NYCCT) student, Tasnuva Ahmed, created a blog (Study Abroad – Belize) of her 10-day field course with BFREE in January 2014.  Traveling with 4 other architecture students and her professor, Lia Dikigoropoulou, Tasnuva documented all aspects of the group’s experience in Belize with photo and video.

Tasnuva Ahmed videos the Bladen River

Tasnuva Ahmed videos the Bladen River