Letter to the Editor: Feed Crocodiles is Illegal
Sunday, May 10th, 2015
Dear Editor and the Community of Ambergris Caye,
When I first came to Ambergris Caye in 2008, crocodiles were illegally being fed at WASA Lagoon, endangering the lives of the local community, tourists, as well as the crocodiles. With the collaboration of multiple people and organizations such as the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES), the Belize Forest Department and Wildlife Officer, the local police, and positive support and interaction with the island community, this illegal act successfully ended. However, it has come to my attention, as well as the attention of ACES and the Belize Wildlife Officer, that a new, young, generation of boys are taking tourists to WASA Lagoon to perform “crocodile feeding shows.” Additionally, we have also become aware that tourists are themselves going out to WASA Lagoon to entice the wild crocodiles with chicken and other bait, believing it is ok to feed the wildlife. It is now time for the community of Ambergris Caye to come together again and continue the education to fellow Belizeans and tourists that it is illegal and dangerous to feed the wildlife on the island, particularly the crocodiles.
As the Vice Regional Chair of Latin America for the International Union for Conservation and Nature/Species Survival Commission of the Crocodile Specialist Group, I have encountered throughout Latin America (as well as internationally) the harm feeding crocodiles illegally causes for the local communities. As many islanders know, intentionally feeding crocodiles creates aggressive crocodiles that are no longer afraid of humans. As a result, crocodile attacks increase, which negatively affect the livelihood of the local community, whether it’s fishing, recreational, or economic (in relation to tourism). And given crocodiles are a hot commodity that tourists want to see and will pay to see in their natural habitat AND BEHAVING NATURALY, crocodiles that attack tourists in boats or along rivers, lagoons, or behave un-naturally, can negatively impact the local economy as tourists are less likely to travel to places or take tours from tour companies that put the travelers in danger. Additionally, it is only a matter of time before a local or tourist becomes seriously injured or killed as the result of the crocodiles losing their fear, which can have a lasting, somber impact for years.
We have to remind ourselves crocodiles are not the problem- it is the practice of illegally feeding crocodiles that is the problem. And managed correctly, the presence of crocodiles on the island can be a great eco-tourist attraction that can bring more income to islanders as seen in other parts of the world in which crocodiles inhabit. There are various examples, such as in India, Sri Lanka, Australia and Africa, in which communities have used the presence of crocodiles to increase their income opportunity. The Belize Wildlife Officer and I are currently brainstorming solutions and ideas in which both crocodiles and the community of Ambergris (as well as the rest of Belize) can greatly benefit from the presence of crocodiles. However, before anything is implemented, the illegal feeding of crocodiles must be prevented.
The people of Ambergris Caye are indeed fortunate to have such wildlife and natural beauty surrounding their homes. Many tourists from Europe, the United States, and other “urbanized” countries have come to realize the beauty of keeping some of their natural habitat intact, and keeping wildlife “wild.” So many of these countries are now reversing the damage they have done (such as South Korea) as they realize the connection between a healthy, natural, environment and a healthy, human population. Additionally, the younger generations are voicing their concerns and taking action to ensure a future in which man and nature can co-exist. And it is these generations (which are becoming the majority of travelers internationally) that want to travel to “eco-friendly” places (which includes wildlife-friendly).
I commend the local authorities and people of San Pedro who have continued to educate others about the Belizean Wildlife laws, such as the illegal action of crocodile feedings. Yet, as mentioned previously, it is time to come together as an authoritative community once more to ensure the safety of our neighbors, friends, family, as well as the tourists, by informing others that the crocodile feedings are illegal and can put the community of Ambergris Caye in danger. By coming together, we can create an environment that ensures the future prosperity (economically and culturally) for the people of San Pedro, in addition to keeping the wildlife in its beautiful natural state.
Dr. Marisa Tellez
IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group’s Vice Regional Chair of Latin America
United States NSF Post-doctoral Researcher
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