Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education
Deep in the tropical broadleaf rainforests, the BFREE research station dedicates its work to preserving biodiversity and cultural heritage through research and education. The critically endangered hicatee turtle has been decimated due to poaching throughout Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. BFREE has a large outdoor facility used for captive breeding to preserve this species before it becomes extinct.
HICATEE TURTLE HISTORY
The hicatee turlte (Dermatemys mawii) is a freshwater turtle found in rivers and lakes from Mexico down to Belize. Due to overharvesting the hicatee has been decimated with little hope to recover the species in certain regions of Mexico. Breeding occurs during the rainy season and the females head out of the rivers and lakes to dig out nests along the shoreline. Captive breeding projects have been developed to help bring this species back from the brink of extinction!
RESEARCH AND CARE
Several hicatee turtles are housed in a large pond constructed by the BFREE team. The first project Jordyn (my fellow herpetologist and friend from the NPS internship) and I built nesting areas out of different substrate to study breeding behavior. At the end of our stay we rounded up all the adult turtles for health assessments. Each turtle was weighed, measured, and females were palpated to determine if gravid (pregnant!). It was easy to sex the hicatee because the male turtles have bright yellow heads. At that time none of the females were gravid but it was early in the project.
WHERE ARE THE HICATEES TODAY?
Since leaving the station back in 2014, exciting developments have happened with the hicatee project at BFREE. Females have laid clutches of eggs and turtles have hatched! This is an incredible achievement for BFREE and the hicatees!
Head over to the BFREE website at bfreebz.org to check out more.