Researching the Endangered Hicatee

The Central American river turtle, known locally as the “hicatee”, is one of the world’s most heavily exploited turtles, collected for its meat, but also for its eggs and shell. Populations of the critically endangered hicatee have disappeared in nearby countries and continue to decline in Belize due to overharvesting as well as habitat loss and degradation. As a result, the national Hicatee Conservation and Monitoring Network (HCMN) was formed in December 2010 and conservation campaigns began throughout the country to “Save the Hicatee”.

Lamanai Field Research Center was the site of a hicatee monitoring and training workshop held in March 2011 by Dr. Thomas Rainwater, the Turtle Survival Alliance, and the Hicatee Conservation and Monitoring Network. The session trained representatives from the Belize Forest Department, Belize Fisheries Department, Belize Audubon Society, Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education, and Lamanai Field Research Center in safe capture and handling of turtles, as well as standardized surveying and monitoring methods.

In collaboration with Dr. Rainwater, we have begun a long-term hicatee research and monitoring program in the New River Lagoon and surrounding areas to save the hicatee from extinction.