Hicatee Turtle Research
Hicatees are a Meso-American river turtle that are found in only four countries globally; Belize; Guatemala; Mexico; Honduras. They are slow growing animals and take 9-10 months to hatch from their eggs after being laid. They are being over-hunted in Belize's rivers and they are now critically endangered. Due to their slow life cycle, the hicatees are not reproducing fast enough to balance their loss in numbers through hunting.
TIDE, Ya’axché Conservation Trust and Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) are working together under funding from the The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) to research the Hicatee turtle (Dermatemys mawaii) within the Rio Grande River. They are specifically carrying out an ecological and distribution assessment of Hicatee turtles in Southern Belize, whilst also conducting education and outreach on these critically endangered Central American river turtles.
Elmar Requena, Terrestrial Biologist at TIDE, was chosen to lead the team throughout the research. A critical part of the project involves outreach and dialogue with local communities, such as interviews with Hicatee hunters. The results so far have been interesting, as they have revealed that catches of Hicatee are declining and their range has become smaller. A positive finding from interviews has shown many hunters would actually support a longer closed season to ensure Hicatees are present in future years.
During the research phase of the project, the TIDE team captured five adult hicatee turtles. They learned how to handle turtles and radio tags were attached to each hicatee.
The team now uses radio telemetry and GIS to track each turtle regularly following its movements and monitoring its behaviour. It is hoped this research will provide new information for this data deficient species.