The Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii), also known locally as "hicatee" or "tortuga blanca", has declined throughout its native range of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. They are extremely rare in Mexico and Guatemala, but there are a few scattered stable populations left in Belize. It is listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN and it is an Appendix 2 species under CITES. Although there are existing regulations in Belize for the harvest and possession of this species, there is little enforcement of these laws throughout its range. Overharvesting and illegal poaching are the main contributing factors for its current status. With a mean generation time estimated to be between 15 and 20 years, poachers can decimate an entire waterway in just a few nights.
Little is known about the natural history of this iconic turtle of Central America. As a result, it is difficult to formulate effective laws to allow sustainable harvesting and protect important habitat. Lack of knowledge of dietary, life history, reproduction and crucial habitat requirements may impede successful captive propagation attempts. Through a long-term mark-recapture and radio-telemetry program, our collaborative group hopes to shed light on some of these knowledge gaps.
Engaging the local communities and involving them in our efforts hopes to build a better understanding of the plight of the hicatee. Through engaging children in the classrooms and creating educational brochures for distribution in the local villages, we are building a sense of local pride and ownership of this unique species. We are seeking to support the Forest Department of Belize to gain increased surveillance for poaching activities that are occurring unchecked in protected waterways.
Project 13256057 location - Belize, North America