I went from Honduras to Belize to join Panthera Belize again for a bit of fieldwork. I joined them as a volunteer last year, and I had a great experience (read more about it here). I had an amazing time there, so I was eager to meet up with them once again. This time I just stayed for a short period time.
A short description of what you can expect in this blog post:
Travel to Belize
I was on the island of Utila, Honduras, and I had to find a way to get to Belize. There was the multiple day option to go over the mainland over Guatemala, but I decided to take a ferry. There are ferries from Puerto Cortez (Honduras) and from Puerto Barrios (Guatemala), I decided to take the last one. As I was a bit tired I took the easy option to get in a minivan straight to Guatemala. From the bus, I saw a halo around the sun, but soon there was another challenge. The ferry looked interesting…. It was just a normal small boat. Once in Belize, I still hoped to get the bus up to Belmopan, to join the Panthera Belize research crew again. They told me we were going to make it, but soon I figured out that was not going to happen. We were 4 of us for the ferry, me, an Australian couple, and a Brazilian. The Captain told us that there was a possibility to get wet, after two minutes in, it was not a possibility anymore but a fact. The ocean was not wild at all, but in a little boat, it got quite adventurous. The Brazilian hadn’t loosened his grip from the boat edge at all and looked really scared, whereas I and the Aussies were kind of enjoying it. Anyway, I had to stay overnight in PG (Punta Gorda) and I continued my journey the next day.
Soon I noticed what damage Hurricane Earl had done to Belize…
Fieldwork with Panthera Belize
During my first visit to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, I could see the damage of hurricane Earl. On the way there it didn’t look too bad, but suddenly when entering the reserve, the hurricane had hit harder. Quite a lot of trees were down. Also on the trails, I could see a lot of differences with when I was here last year. It was much more open and much more sun was reaching the jungle surface. It’s hard to make it visible on a photo, but I did a try.
I was in Belize just for a short time, but it was very intense. After the hurricane, a couple of cameras had been retrieved, but the ones put out further away, were still out. Initially we were going to make it a camping trip, but in the end we managed everything we needed to do in one day. This trip was about 35 km with most of it on a trail that hadn’t been cleared after the hurricane.
The second part of my short visit was helping to conduct a puma scrape survey, as it was part of a dissertation. This was quite exhausting walking over 20 km every day for 10 days, looking for new scrapes on the trails.
Last Day - Jaguar Sighting
As this fieldwork was very intense, on our last day we didn’t have much energy left, so we were just ‘doing the job’ to finish it. We didn’t talk for a while, which leads to an unforgettable encounter. Bart noticed something and looked me straight in the eyes, slowly making a hand movement I need to come closer and look. I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was a jaguar walking on the trail during broad daylight. And if that was not enough, there were 2 jaguars walking on the trail in front of us. We could observe them for a bit. Soon they noticed us and had a look at us. Although they didn’t really bother too much, with a gentle trot they disappeared in the forest, and left us behind full of questions and adrenaline…
We tried to figure out what happened, and why there were 2 of them… one was definitely larger than the other one… mother and cub? male and female? … Luckily, we had cameras on that trail…
Later that evening we got the verdict, it was Ben and F11-9 (name of the jaguar, the 9th new female first detected on cameras in 2011). Ben was the big jaguar that had been collared earlier. His GPS collar dropped off just before the hurricane hit Belize and was lost since, but he was back, and he was not alone.
You can read the encounter from the perspective of Research Dr. Bart Harmsen here (below the article there is a video from the trail cameras of the 2 jaguars we saw).
I was satisfied and happy I came to Belize for a short time. Now I felt ready to leave this place again and make my way back to Belgium.
Below I added a video about Ben’s life and other wildlife in Cockscomb. All credits to Panthera Belize and if you are interested in more videos, definitely check out their Facebook page.
UPDATE FROM THE FIELD Enjoy our latest video instalment on the life of Ben the jaguar in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary - 'Ben the jaguar looking for females'. Special thanks to Emma Sanchez and Rebecca Wooldridge for deploying and maintaining an extensive network of our video cameras to achieve this fantastic footage.Posted by Panthera-Belize on Sunday, 31 July 2016
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Below I added a couple of videos and blog posts for the hurricane story. If you want to keep up to date with the research from Panthera Belize, definitely check out there Facebook page.
A very nice video about the wildlife in Cockscom Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (CBWS) with a focus on individual jaguars and the hurricane, a must watch!