1. In 2004, Jessie Young (a Creole woman living in a village ~NW of Belize City) & I published a paper in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science on hunters’ (Belizean men’s) attitudes and behavior. Unless I am mistaken, this paper is available at no cost online at the journal’s website.
2. With a questionnaire tool, Young interviewed >50 self-described hunters in one village.
3. We were, in particular, concerned to evaluate possible hunting pressure(s) on the black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra); although, our study yielded information on quite a few additional taxa, nocturnal, diurnal, crepuscular, some of these inhabiting riparian areas.
4. Similar to the conditions in a new report on lemurs, Creole’s have historically honored a taboo prohibiting monkey hunting. Young and I suggested that the convention derived from Mayan beliefs whereby monkeys embodied dead relatives. It is interesting to note that most of the Creoles don’t believe the Mayan tale but follow the proscription anyway.
5. Though Young and I found no evidence that the Mayan tradition was eroding, we found a strong effect for the influence of “opportunity costs” as determinants of prey choice. In other words, decisions to kill prey were a partial function of relative costs and/or benefits of searching for and killing a different, more preferred, prey item. Put another way, our data suggested that hunters weighed what they might be missing if they settle for an opportunity in hand. These decisions (some part of them unconscious and/or automatic ones?) were strongly influenced by food preferences, and black howlers were not very high on the list. Spider monkeys, however, are considered tasty; however, they were not present in our study region and hunters denied hunting Ateles as well as A. pigra.
6. We were able to determine hunters’ food preferences and to rank these from most to least preferred. These and other results indicated that decisions to kill were primarily opportunistic. Discussing the implications of this strategy is beyond the scope of this brief post. However, it is worth noting that paca was very high on the list of preferences, a species highly regarded as a tasty source of food for many groups throughout the Neotropics (eg Colombian Amazon: CB Jones, personal observation). This animal is, indeed, delicious and, in BZ, is considered a special meal for special occasions for special guests. To the contrary, at least in some areas of the Colombian Amazon, paca is eaten not infrequently by indigenous families in informal conditions, probably as a source of limiting protein; however, I am not certain of that.
7. It may be interesting to some readers to note that, though some carnivores (especially canids & felids) exhibit coordinated group hunting as is common in humans and that may occur in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), on balance temporal, energetic, and other costs, ceteris paribus, constrain hunting strategies to opportunism (CB Jones, unpublished). Again, long story.
8. It may be interesting to some readers, also, to be reminded that body mass for large mammals usually correlates with generalist strategies eg opportunistic hunting (niche breadth may be either relatively narrow or relatively wide).
9. Caveats are in order relative to comparisons and contrasts between the two cases: among habitat countries, Belize is among the wealthiest and most environmentally conscious (these factors are, self-evidently related to each other). Unless I am mistaken, BZ has the highest proportion of remaining forest cover compared to any other CA country (including MX in NA, also). One obvious point is that many more citizens in Belize are able to procure an adequate diet, including protein components, compared to The Malagasy Republic.
10. I do not recall reading about this topic in the report on lemur hunting; however, in my experience, I received much more support for the project described here from the BZ department of wildlife and resources than from NGOs. This, also, is a long story. In brief, anyone considering research in Belize must be aware that national as well as "fortress" conservation groups are intensely territorial, competitive, and ambitious; consistent with this posture, these groups will disseminate inaccurate, even deceptive, information to potential competitors (ie other researchers) to advance their own self-interests. Often the disseminators are locals erected to high positions in a given NGO. I have found misrepresentation of the facts to be a pervasive problem in BZ NGOs. I would speculate that there is, also, intense competition (although, on some projects, ostensible cooperation) between the NGOs and government agencies; however, as I suggested above, I have found the government wildlife & resources agency to be a pleasure to work with and to be very helpful--even to the point of providing a variety of types of detailed maps. Finally, it is interesting to note that some of the best BZ nationals working for NGOs transfer (#?) to government conservation-related work. Because of these problems, because informal discussions with many individuals in Belize suggest strongly that bushmeat hunting is a potentially serious problem in the country, this project is ripe for investigation--effectively unmined for potential. BTW, to a much lesser degree, some of these problems exist in Costa Rica, also (talk to people in Puntarenas, for example, and survey street stalls in that port city. Finally, on a related point--informally, I have been told many time that the animal trade is affecting wildlife, especially, I would speculate, spider monkeys (Ateles) because of the relatively recent influx of huge cruise ships to BZ. In Costa Rica, Puntarenas is the major port--with obvious implications for animal trade (unlike BZ, a few primate species inhabit this country, including Cebus (capuchin, the "organ grinder monkey" wildly popular as a pet, entertainer, etc.), as well as Saimiri oerstedii, a critically endangered squirrel monkey that I have studied on the Osa Peninsula.
11. The hunting landscape and story have changed rapidly and radically in the past 15 y by immigrants to BZ who do not honor the Mayan Code. Some of these immigrants are legal (Chinese), some are not (illegals crossing the border from Honduras). A serious border dispute has persisted for decades with Guatemala in SW Belize. Hunting is likely to occur in this region, also, and, as well, because Guatemalan campesinos cryptically cross the “border” along this N-S “border” to cull the valuable xate plant, sometimes remaining on the BZ side in makeshift campsites. Clearly, these men must eat.
12. An added detail, BTW, is that British soldiers stationed in BZ reputedly kill monkeys recreationally. I have often seen these men at the airport, on the streets of Belize City, in San Ignacio and other hamlets, as well as in bars. They are a bored young lot seeking many diversions. VertebrateSocialBehavior.blogspot.com