The Most Endangered Species in Belize

Belize has one of the world’s most rich and diverse flora and fauna and offers a broad range of habitats for amazing wildlife living from open savannas to mountainous regions.

The country has approximately 145 species of mammals, 139 species of reptiles and amphibians including 56 plus species of snakes, over 4000 species of flowering plant including some 700 trees and 250 species of orchids. Belize is also a birder’s paradise, with over 500 species of rare and exotic birds thriving in its many distinct habitats.

However in the past few years there have been some species that are becoming endangered due to pollution, deforestation, and over hunting. In this blog post, we highlight six species that are engendered in Belize:

Mesoamerican River Turtle

Photo by Gracia Gonzalez Porter

Scientific Name:
Dermatemys mawii

Other Names
Mesoamerican River Turtle

Group: Reptiles

Locally known as “hickatee” or Tortuga blanca, the Central American river turtle is the only living species in the family Dermatemydidade and is a nocturnal and aquatic turtle that lives in rivers and lakes in Belize and throughout Central America. It is one of the world’s most heavily exploited turtles and is classified as a critically engendered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – an organization that helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.

The Central American river turtle has been intensely harvested primarily for its meat but also for its eggs and shells. In Southern Mexico, the turtle has been nearly eliminated from much of its former range.

The Bromeliad Tree Frog

Scientific Name:
Bromeliohyla bromeliacia

Group: Amphibians

The bromeliad tree frog is a species of frog in the Hylida family and is also known as rana arboricula de bromelia in Spanish. The frog can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. These frogs lay their eggs in the water-filled rosettes of bromeliads or other temporary water-filled crevices such as the leaf sheaths of banana leaves. The tadpoles then complete their development in these small pools.

Its common habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and are threatened due to habitat loss.

Brown Pelican

Scientific Name:
Pelecanus occidentalis

Group: Birds

The Brown Pelican is a small pelican that can be found in Central and South America, USA (Carolinas to Texas, California, Oregon, Washington), and the West Indies. This pelican is about four feet in length and is one of only two pelican species which feeds by diving into the water.

In Belize, the brown pelican can be found in coastal areas like sandy beaches and lagoons. It can also be found around waterfronts and marinas.

A research group from the University of Tampa headed by Dr. Ralph Schreiber conducted research and found that DDT caused the pelican eggshells to be too thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity. Thus pesticides like DDT and dieldrin has put this species of Pelican in the endanger list.

Cubera Snapper

Scientific Name:
Lutjanus cyanopterus

Group: Fishes

The cubera snapper is a species of fish in the Lutjanus family that can be found in Central America, North America (including United States), and South America.

The species is reef-associated living inshore or near shore and over rocky ledges and overhangs. The young fish typically inhabit inshore mangrove areas and seagrass beds that offer protection from predators. Small cubera snappers are also known to enter estuaries, and tidal reaches of streams and freshwater canals.

The Cubera snapper is in the endangered list because it is very much a sought after gamefish not only for its palatable flesh but for its reputation as an extremely hard fighter.


Belizean rosewood, more commonly known as Honduran Rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii) is a beautiful, highly prized wood used for high quality items such as musical instruments, inlays, decorations and sculpture. Native only to Belize, Guatemala and southern Mexico, it is highly sought after and becoming increasingly scarce. With the international trade of Brazilian rosewood now banned under the  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), there is increasing pressure on Belizean stocks, especially for the manufacture of guitars and other instruments.

To read more about why the Belizean Rosewood is endangered, see this post: Maya Leaders Fight to Save Belize’s Rosewood

Ocellated Turkey

Scientific Name:
Meleagris ocellata

Other Names and/or Listed subspecies:
Agriocharis ocellata

Group: Birds

The ocellated turkey is a conspicuous, vibrant-coloured bird that can be easily distinguished from the only other turkey species, its larger and less colourful North American cousin, the North American wild turkey (Maleagris gallopavo). This species of turkey resides in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico and is a large bird at around 28-48 inches long and an average weight of 6.6 lbs in females and 11 lbs in males.

The Ocellated turkey is in the endangered list because it is heavily hunted for food across its range, even within reserves, and also occasionally for sport. Much of this hunting occurs during the breeding season in March, April and May, when the bird favours more open, exposed clearings for its displays, making it more easily accessible to poachers.

The alarming rate of forest destruction in Central America also poses a significant threat to the long-term survival of this beautiful bird.

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