I’ve been in Belize nearly a month already! I’m loving absolutely every moment of the fieldwork here in the Mountain Pine Ridge. Sometimes I still can’t believe it’s real. I am the only non-wildlife/biology major here, but that has just pushed me to learn everything quickly and efficiently. Every single day I’m learning something new, whether it be how to ID cats by their spots, the different motion-sense cameras, the wing coloration of turkey vultures vs. black vultures, or how to drive a manual four wheel drive truck. I’m learning everything here by doing, and its exhilarating!
The current jaguar crew!
Camera check! Switching out memory cards and making sure the cameras are still in working order
I live in a field station on a pine tree farm called Bull Run Farm. It’s a beautiful, rustic location where I live with three other field assistants and a Project Leader. We’ve got three tough trucks that take us back and forth to 50 camera trap stations evenly spread out across the study site. All the cameras are set up along the dirt roads, approximately three meters apart, with two cameras to a station (a total of 100 cameras). The two cameras face each other to capture both sides of passing cats – if spotted, their markings help identify individuals, much like a fingerprint. The cameras capture all types of interesting life out here!
A camera station
Caught on camera
My room is made of window and sheet!
Newly rearranged living room
Our boots are wet
Supply boxes we take into the field!
No day is the same here – the cameras need to be checked every 10 days. We trigger each camera with the date and time of the switch, change out memory cards, and load them onto two hard drives for safekeeping. In between camera checks, we conduct habitat assessments – one at each station over the three months of this project. Habitat assessments take significantly longer than the camera checks. We head straight into the brush with machetes and measuring tapes! Starting at each station, we go out 100 meters in three directions (0°, 120°, and 240°) measuring the ground cover, and tree height, cover, and trunk diameter. Often we are pushing through the tightly woven tiger fern and brush, towering high over our heads. By the end of these habitats, I feel like a muddy, sweaty bulldozer – but don’t worry, the jungle bounces back very, very quickly.
First baby jaguar of 2017
Trail camera captures! (Photos owned by Virginia Tech)
This is Vance, our awesome Project Leader. We saw this boa in the middle of the road!
And weekends aren’t Saturdays and Sundays anymore. Days off are dictated by 1) weather. If it’s raining, these dirt roads turn to mud pits that eat trucks, and 2) our need for food and/or supplies. San Ignacio is the nearest town, a bumpy hour away.
Rio On Pools
The pine farm we live on (the view out my window)
The weather here is amazing! The daytime hours are hot, sunny, and sometimes humid, but every evening, once the sun sets across the pine trees, the temperature drops to the cool, fall-like weather I love. We cook dinner together, then curl up by the fire with a book or watch a movie. This week has been on and off rain. Unpredictable, it will downpour for 15 minutes, then stop, then drizzle for an hour… it’s hard to decide whether we should risk the trucks getting stuck in the deep muddy puddles that pock the roads, or just call a day off and clean the house.
I feel so lucky to be here. Belize is a tiny, diverse country in people and wildlife. Over a THIRD of the country is protected land, sanctuaries for the beautiful, tropical wildlife. The main income here is from tourists – this encourages Belizean citizens to keep their environment safe and clean. Short drives after work or on our days off bring us to countless waterfalls, caves, hiking trails, lakes, Mayan ruins, and quaint little towns.
Packed in the trunk of the truck with groceries on our way back from town
English is the national language, but Spanish, Mayan, Creole, and other dialects are spoken here more often than not. There is also a huge Chinese population here, where almost all of the supermarkets and restaurants are Chinese-owned. A large Mennonite population also blooms here, doing much of the agricultural work, as well as mechanics (ironically. Many traditional Mennonites don’t use any form of technology, but in the area we are in now, they have the monopoly of selling motor vehicle parts and repairs).
A traditional Belizean dish is simple stewed rice, beans, and chicken – and it’s SO GOOD. We cook it often at our house. The dish is called Stew Beans. Not stewed beans, Stew Beans. No past tense. Same with Fry Rice. And I thought it would be a clever title :)… That is all.
Here are some Belize Zoo photos I took!
Belize Zoo! Springfield, a female jaguar
Spider monkey at the zoo!
A photo of Steve Erwin with Belize Zoo founder, Sharon Matola!
Long post- took advantage of getting good wifi for a few hours! Until next time,