Confiscated Hicatees Stock the HCRC, New Land Snail Officially Described by Dan Dourson and Fred Thompson, New Staff and More!

Hicatee Confiscations Help Stock the HCRC

Belize Fisheries Officers with confiscated Hicatee Turtles
BY RICK HUDSON of Turtle Survival Alliance and JACOB MARLIN

The new Hicatee Conservation Research Center (HCRC) in Belize is now open for business, which is a good thing for eight Central American River turtles, or Hicatee, Dermatemys mawii, that were confiscated recently. Spearheaded by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and created in partnership with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), the HCRC is a unique facility located in a private protected area at the foothills of the Maya Mountains.

Eric Anderson & Howard Goldstein collect data on the turtles

TSA and BFREE already had a team on the ground in Belize when we learned that the Fisheries Department, acting on a tip, had pursued a group of Hicatee hunters in an area near Sandhill called Grace Bank, Belize District. The pursuit by canoe lasted over three hours and resulted in the officers’ discovery of ten nets set across the creek for trapping Hicatee, an illegal practice that fortunately led to the poacher’s camp. Though armed, two men were arrested without incident on 26 March and arraigned the following day in court and charged accordingly (See Belize news). Eight turtles were found in bags including an oversize female with a carapace length of 18.3 inches, 3 under-sized females with carapace lengths of less than 14 inches, 2 legal-sized females with carapace lengths of 16 inches, and 2 adult males each with a carapace length of 16 inches. Violations included exceeding the allowable number of turtles (3), using nets to trap turtles, and taking turtles outside the allowable size limits of 15.2 – 17.2 inches carapace length. More restrictive regulations for collecting Hicatee in Belize were proposed in 2012 but have not yet gone into effect.

On Thursday, 27 March, a news report on the radio notified the public of the arrest and reminded them of the laws pertaining to harvesting Hicatee from the wild. Upon learning that an arrest had been made, our team called Fisheries and requested that the turtles be transferred to BFREE for the breeding program. The following day, 28 March, permission was granted and Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE, picked up the turtles from Fisheries headquarters in Belize City. There are now 22 Hicatee residing at the HCRC.

Read more →

A New Species of Rare Land Snail is Officially Described from Belize!


Found in the southern foothills of the Maya Mountains, the Mayan drum, Eucalodium belizensis, was formally given scientific description by Dan Dourson, BFREE biologist and Fred Thompson, Florida Museum of Natural History in the journal, The Nautilus, Volume 127 in late 2013.

The new species was first discovered by Valentino Tzub, a Kek’chi Maya from the village of San Jose who was trained as a malacological field assistant by Dan Dourson. Valentino has been collecting and cataloging land snails near his village for the past 5 years. He has found other species of land snails that are likely new to science; these also awaiting scientific description. Mr. Tzub works as a guide and research assistant for other scientific expeditions and research projects in Belize.

The subgenus, Eucalodium, has a restricted range and is found in a small area of Belize, Guatemala, and part of Mexico (northern Chiapas and Tabasco.) Drums are seldom encountered with several species known only from the type locality where it was initially collected - as is the case for the Mayan drum. This is the first species from this genus of snails reported from Belize. 

The Mayan drum was found under leaf litter near Cretaceous limestone outcrops. The landform surrounding the type locality includes hilly karst topography, containing sinkholes and multiple cave formations. The type locality is entirely forested by a tropical wet broadleaf evergreen forest with cohune palms, occasional emergent Ceiba trees and an understory layer dominated with shrubs, pteridophytes, and Araceae (Brewer pers. comm.). Included are the only existing images of a live Mayan drum.

Land use changes including increased farming activity in this area is encroaching into the near-by forest and threatens the future of this extremely rare and endangered gastropod.

For more photos →

Staff Changes at BFREE

This field season BFREE welcomes several new staff members.

Sipriano Canti returns as BFREE’s Head Ranger and Rainforest Tour Guide. Sipriano is Village Chairman for his neighboring community of Golden Stream and has worked in a variety of Forest Ranger positions during the past fifteen years. Most recently, he pursued training for and received his Tour Guide License from the Belize Tourism Board. Sipriano guides groups on both day and night hikes around BFREE and has been described as both delightful and an expert on Belize’s forests.

Ornella (Nelly) Cadle, joins the BFREE team as a Field Course Leader. Nelly grew up in Bladen Village and recently completed her associate’s degree at Independence Junior College in Tourism Management. Last field season, Nelly assisted Judy Dourson as an intern during several field courses. Nelly greets groups at the airport, introduces them to the country and accompanies them to BFREE and throughout their stay.  Her enthusiasm and great attitude immediately put people at ease and her natural ability to nurture has earned her the nickname “Mama Nelly.”

Another of the BFREE staff has changed roles beginning this April. Marlyn Cruz, also an Independence Junior College graduate, has been employed as an Avian Technician since November 2012. This month, she will transition into BFREE’s Office Manager allowing her full-time employment and filling a long-standing need for the field station.  Her previous office experience equips her for this new position. Marlyn will continue to offer bird talks and demonstrations when groups and other visitors are onsite. She is also charged with the care of the river turtles residing in the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center which opened this month.

To read more about BFREE Staff →

A Rapid Multi-Taxa Assessment of "Oak Ridge"

In March of 2012, BFREE resident biologist Dan Dourson, and Dr. Steven Brewer, along with colleagues from Copperhead Environmental Consulting, conducted an expedition deep into the highest elevations of the Maya Mountains within the Bladen Nature Reserve to take a snapshot of the vegetation, bat and land snail diversity in the moisture-laden forests of the undisturbed and unexplored region. 

Together this team created the  document “A Rapid multi-taxa assessment of “Oak Ridge” an unusual ridge system in the north-central Bladen Nature Reserve” prepared by Copperhead Environmental Consulting, Inc. for the Belize Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and Ya’axche Conservation Trust.

This assessment, first circulated in December 2013 and authored by Steven W. Brewer, Plant Diversity & Vegetation; Price Sewell, Josh Adams and Mark Gumbert, Bats; and Daniel C. Dourson, Snails, is rich with information and photographs, and is available on Ya’axche’s website at this link.

This recent expedition is an example of BFREE's long term commitment to further exploring and understanding the complexities and rich biodiversity of the Bladen Nature Reserve and surrounding areas, so that we can better highlight the importance of protecting and conserving the protected areas within the Maya Mountains for future generations.

Recent Exciting Field Courses at BFREE

With new staff leading the way and some new program offerings, this field season has been nothing less than dynamic! We can’t tell the stories as well as those who have visited so take a few minutes to peruse the courses BFREE has offered and some of the comments received afterwards.

January Field Courses

• “Architecture Study Abroad in Belize” led by Lia Dikigoropoulou, New York City College of Technology

• “Tropical Rainforests” led by Mark Cline Lucey and Jennifer Cohen, Vermont Commons High School

February Field Courses

• “Tropical Ecology” led by Kevin Fraser and Alex Mills, York University collective

March Field Courses

• “Sustainable Development: Law, Policy, and Practice” led by Tom Ankersen and Lyrissa Lidsky, University of Florida

• “Wildlife Biology” led by Stewart Skeate, Lees McRae College

• “Tropical Field Biology” led by Betsy Dumont, Tristram Siedler, Steve McCormick, Adam Porter, and Blake Gilmore, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

To read testimonials + for more pictures →

Vermont Commons High School in BFREE Documentary

Twelve students from the Vermont Commons School traveled on a study abroad trip to the field station this past January. One of their teachers who traveled with them, Mark Cline Lucey, the Social Studies Department Chair and Research & Service Program Director, got the whole thing on film, and very artfully edited it all together. Now he's sharing with us this wonderfully entertaining and informative short documentary about their trip.

Click here to watch the video
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