The Hicatee Conservation & Research Center (HCRC) was created to help secure the future survival of the hicatee turtle. After considerable planning, Turtle Survival Alliance in collaboration with BFREE began the construction of the facility at the BFREE biological field station in the northern Toledo District of Belize. The goal of the HCRC is to establish protocols for sustained and successful captive breeding and to test the feasibility of large scale captive management.
Over the past few years two large breeding ponds and associated infrastructure were built to support the breeding program. The hope is that captive hatched turtles should be available to restock depleted wild populations, create new populations, and at the same time take pressure off of wild populations by developing sustainable methods for farming Hicatee that can be implemented easily throughout Belize and the entirety of their range.
The founder population was acquired in April 2014 and consisted of 22 animals which all are healthy and thriving. The mission to create a viable captive breeding program for D. mawii was almost immediately successful, with the seven babies hatched at HCRC in June 2015 representing some of the handful of hicatee ever hatched in captivity. The seven animals are growing rapidly and in great condition. Additional clutches were laid in December 2015 and March 2016, and are awaiting hatching.
The facility has been extremely successful in both propagating native food plants on site and sustainably collecting others from the wild. Feeding trials have helped the HCRC determined the hicatee’s preferred food items, and the most important, native Paspalum grass, has been cultivated in abundance around the breeding ponds and elsewhere on BFREE grounds.
Health and reproductive assessments, including weighing and measuring, and ultrasound exams on breeding size adults occur at the HCRC approximately four times a year. A great deal is being learned from the colony about hicatee reproductive ecology, energy dynamics, hatchling morphology and captive care, and the necessary size minimum for non-invasive sexing of individuals.
“The work we are doing at the HCRC can potentially be a game changer for the Hicatee, not only in Belize but throughout the region. The recent hatching at the HCRC has put us ahead of where we thought we would be at this stage, and we are now well on our way to providing a model for sustainable captive management.”
Rick Hudson, President, Turtle Survival Alliance
Funding and logistical support for the HCRC has come from a variety of sources in recent years. We are grateful to the Disney Conservation Fund, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Santa Fe College, Bill Dennle, the Brevard Zoo, the AZA Conservation Grant Fund, Belize Aquaculture Limited, Gomez and Sons Sawmill, Belize Fisheries Department, Monkey Bay Wildlife Santuary, Lamanai Field Research Center, TIDE, Richard and Carol Foster, Zoo Miami, and the Chesapeake AAZK Chapter.