Last night on Ambergris Caye to catch crocs for my croc-parasite research here in Belize. So far, my hypothesis that the crocs here will have a lower parasitic load than crocs from less urbanized populations or less polluted areas is appearing valid. Much research has come out that a healthy ecosystem is one with parasites. The lack of parasites or no parasites is a strong indicator that the environment is under heavy stress or is extremely polluted. In the case of Ambergris- its both. I can’t state the numbers now until publication, but let’s just say if the pollutant levels that are being found on Ambergris were found in a city in America, someone would be going to jail and the CDC would be involved in a heart beat! And just look at the crocs- if the crocs on the island are getting sick and no parasites can be found, this should definitely sound the alarm! But the problem is the lack of communication between the community, scientists, and the government and the lack of action taken by those in power is only making the problem worse. Luckily, there are some wildlife enthusiasts and environmentalists, such as the team of ACES on Ambergris Caye, that are doing there very best in trying to make a difference. And since I first step foot on Ambergris Caye in 2008, the respect for the crocodiles has gotten better. But MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more needs to be done if that island is going to be saved because at the rate it is going, tourists are going to need Hazmat suits to go visit (ok, I may be a little over exaggerating here, but you get the point!).
On the last night of Ambergris, as I rolled up to the lagoons at Coco Beach at 5pm on a golf cart with the other croc-parasite team for this trip, Vince from ACES was pulling out a 6 footer from the water. Talk about perfect timing!!!! The only problem I thought we were going to have was trying to keep the locals away from interfering with the data processing. We caught the croc right as work had ended for construction workers across the street. When a local sees a croc, usually the immediate response is to kill the croc, or cut of some part of the croc, etc. So, here was my chance to get in touch with some of the community. Before even saying anything, I heard a guy say, “Chop off the tail and let’s eat him!” He started to be macho and annoying, so I politely intervened and started talking to everyone to detour them from listening to this nonsense, Rush Limbaugh wannabe. As I got all the workers attention I started to tell them about why I was here in Belize, what I was doing with the crocodiles, and why crocodiles were important. And then I asked them why there was human-crocodile conflict. And one man stood up and told me if it wasn’t for the government and the expats pushing the Belizeans out into the outskirts of the island, there would be less conflict. A man told me how his father talked about all the crocs living on the island and there was no-conflict, but as development came and started to push the poor people into areas that were croc-infested waters, that’s when it got really bad. So, in order to live on the island where they grew up, they have been pushed back taking over croc habitat. The one thing that kept coming out of many mouths of the local Belizeans was that if it wasn’t for the government and the expats overdeveloping, destroying habitat, and disregarding basic human rights for the lower income locals, the problems with the crocs wouldn’t be as bad. From what they were telling me, it just sounds like how the Chinese government destroyed all the poor neighborhoods around Beijing for the Olympics, and now how the Brazilian government is destroying the favelahs for the World Cup and Brazilian Olympics- instead of helping out the poor, they just want to cover it up and disregard their basic human rights as if they don’t exist for the sake of those who are rich and/or have power. Although I already knew this, speaking with these locals opened up my eyes that the root of the croc-human conflict here on Ambergris isn’t with the locals, but those with superior money and power.
So my tasks to make a difference is going to take a longer than I thought- but isn’t that how it goes???? Here on Caye Caulker as I’ve been speaking with the locals the human-croc conflict is not that bad. And speaking to the locals they say its because they have learned from Ambergris- if you give the crocodiles habitat and don’t destroy the whole island, they will “do there thing, and leave us humans alone.” Of course their is the occasional siting near houses, but its not as bad as in Ambergris. As one local told me, “We have learned from Ambergris, and we do not want to be Ambergris Caye.”
Anyways, now at Caye Caulker and we caught some crocs and we found a parasite known as Paratrichosoma!!!! I have only found it on the mainland in Belize so its VERY exciting for me!!!! Hopefully we will catch at least 3 more tonight and see if anymore on the island have the parasite. So, off to catch crocs… stay tuned as I’m guessing tonight is going to be exciting!!!!!