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Spring ’19 Hicatee Health Assessments

 

Team Hicatee Spring 2019

During the early March Hicatee Health Assessment, a total of 214 turtles were assessed at the Hicatee conservation and Research Center (HCRC). The primary purpose of the spring health assessment was to perform a basic exam of the overall health of the captive population at the HCRC. Because oviposition takes place between the months of November and February, it was also relevant to check for the presence of additional eggs. 

Prior to the Health Assessments beginning, a small team of volunteers arrived to help prepare the site. The team cleaned hatchling tanks and moved the 140 hatchlings from the 2018 cohort from the soft release cage where they had been housed since December. They were placed there during the coldest months of the year because the water in Pond A maintained higher temperatures than in the smaller, above-ground tanks where they live during warmer months. Hatchlings were counted and given a quick check before being transferred back to the tanks where they acclimated until their assessments a few days later.

The three day processing started off with adult turtles being netted from the pond A, then placed in their respective holding area awaiting assessment. On day two, Adult turtles from Pond B was then netted and assessed. Day 3 commenced with a scanning of both pond perimeters for nest cavities which showed signs of eggs. Followed by the assessment of hatchlings from the 2018 cohort. Results from this year’s spring health check are still under analysis.

Cayle Pearson and Sarah Cristoff of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens isolated several adult male turtles to collect additional data that will help them troubleshoot issues relating to the Hicatee turtles held in captivity at their facility.

We were grateful to receive support and assistance from the following participants in our spring health check: Dr. Isabelle Paquet Durand, Veterinarian at Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, Cayle Pearson, Supervisor of Herpetology, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, and Sarah Cristoff, Veterinary Technician, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Heather Alford, Missy Belmer, Laurie Haven, Doris Dimmitt, Rodney Dimmitt, Tim Gregory, and Emily Gregory. We would like to express our gratitude to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their financial support for this spring’s Hicatee health assessment.

The Hicatee Conservation & Research Center is a joint protect between BFREE and Turtle Survival Alliance. The bi-annual Assessments help ensure the health of captive animals at the HCRC and also contribute to our ongoing research of these critically endangered turtles. #savethehicatee

 

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.

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! 

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.

Latest Hicatee turtle hatchlings for the HCRC

 

Hicatee hatchling by Carol Foster

Hicatee hatchling by Carol Farneti Foster

On May 6 and 7, four Hicatee turtles hatched under the watchful eyes of wildlife filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster, who documented the exciting events. They captured this amazing footage. The Fosters’ were contracted by the Turtle Survival Alliance and BFREE to produce a short documentary film in order to to improve local awareness and appreciation for the uniqueness and the plight of the Hicatee across its small range of southern Mexico, northern Guatemala and Belize. The film will focus on the turtle’s status in Belize and will describe its rapid decline due to over-hunting (for the purpose of human consumption), and will highlight current conservation efforts.

Ten eggs were laid by an adult hicatee at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center on December 14, 2015. Seven were deemed viable and four were transferred to the Fosters’ residence outside of Belmopan for incubation at a constant temperature of 29 degrees celcius in hopes of producing females. The rest of the clutch remained at BFREE for incubation at ambient temperature. After 149 of incubation at the Fosters’ residence outside of Belmopan, four turtles emerged – tiny and healthy.  This was 44 days sooner than last year’s seven hatchlings, which emerged after 193 days of incubation at ambient temperature!  We are still waiting for the remaining two viable eggs from the December 14 clutch to hatch.

Initial funding for the film is being provided by the Columbus Zoo and the Houston Zoo.