Double-Head Wants Game Meat For Ruta Maya; Forestry Frowns

Belizeans love their game meat - whether it's gibnut, pecarry, armadillo, iguana or deer. The cultural practice of hunting and preparing these animals is long established, and the practice of ignoring - or not knowing - the laws protecting those animals is long standing as well.

But something has to give this holiday weekend: The forestry department has gone ahead with what it calls an awareness campaign in the Belize River Valley - to coincide with the staging of the La Ruta Maya Race where game meat is all the rage.

We went to Double Head Cabbage where the race will make its interim stop on Saturday and where the ministry has posted notices saying that hunting or selling game meat without a permit is illegal. Here's the story:

Jules Vasquez Reporting
The riverside area in double head looks pristine. It's been cleared painted, and prepared for Saturday's passage of the LA Ruta Maya Canoe Race. Lifetime residents say the riverside hasn't looked this good since they were children.

Indeed, the passage of the race is reason for celebration…but now the erection of this notice yesterday has made it an occasion for lamentation.

Ardeth McFadzean, Chairlady - Double Head Cabbage
"I read the sign and I was very depressed from then because after all the hard work and everything these people have been put in. "

Rasheeda Garcia, Wildlife Officer
"We knew that there would be a large number of people going through that area this weekend and they would see the fliers or information sheets that we put out, therefore they would be more aware of what the laws are."

Ardeth McFadzean, Chairlady - Double Head Cabbage
"We feel like yes we are being taken advantage of. Jules for thirteen years, this race have been going on and this is the first time, and this law has been there for so many years and they just what to enforce it now you understand?"

The sign is a notice from the forestry department explaining that it is an offence to hunt or sell game meat without a permit.

The problem is game meat is the major attraction at this event.

Jules Vasquez
"When people come to see ruta maya. What do they want?"

Ardeth McFadzean, Chairlady - Double Head Cabbage
"They want game meat, gibnut, hikity, iguana and the list goes on. They don't want the chicken, they don't want the pork, they don't want beef, they want game meat."

Rasheeda Garcia, Wildlife Officer
"In terms of selling animals, then a dealer's license is necessary and according to section seven, you cannot sell, buy or trade any species of wildlife without that dealer's license."

Jules Vasquez
"So you are saying that all that game meat that I always see advertised, all that is illegal?"

Rasheeda Garcia, Wildlife Officer "Yes, without a valid dealers license, it is illegal. People wanted to know if it was necessary for them to get dealers licenses, of course yes, and I want to say that, one, the department is not against the la Ruta Maya, we are not against cultural activities. We understand the importance of cultural activities, and what we want to reiterate and remind people is that all these activities have to be done within the confines of the law."

Winford Broaster - Organizer
"The gibnut the peccary, the deer, those are the type of meat people are looking forward to eat when they come at double head cabbage, for the ministry to come impose such a ruling on us at this stage, to me it's ridiculous, you know, I will use this media now to appeal to them, to consider the situation, look through the situation and think about imposing this law for next year, not that I am asking for any break but just the situation, the timing is not right about now."

Alma Belgrove is preparing armadillo, iguana and deer and has invested $500.00 so far.

Alma Belgrove - Cooking Game Meat
"That is a big investment especially for us that are not working."

Jules Vasquez
"So then, how did you feel when you see this notice saying that….?"

Alma Belgrove - Cooking Game Meat
"I did not like it at all, it's like a slap in the face, you know, if they had come and inform us, or have a meeting with the villagers and tell us, well certain things you have to abandon for that day, then fine but then you don't wait for this. Three days before the situation to come and tell us that we can't have any on sale."

Jules Vasquez
"So, how will you manage this going forward then, what will happen?"

Alma Belgrove - Cooking Game Meat
"I am appealing, I would like to appeal to the people in charge of this Audubon thing, or whoever printed the papers, to please reconsider and give us a break. This thing has been going on for twelve years and this is our first year, it would be nice if they give us a break in it."

Jules Vasquez
"The complaint has been made, man we were ignorant, only three days' notice, we have our stuff stock pile already to sell. What would you say to those people?"

Rasheeda Garcia, Wildlife Officer
"I would like to us this opportunity to remind people that, the forest department is not here to pick on anyone basically, and that I would hope that people would abided by the law, remembering that the forest department is here to ensure the protection of wildlife, to ensure their continuity for future generations. At the same time the department, as I mention before is trying to work along with the public, so we are willing and we will be opening up an office in Belize City, where people can come in and get their dealers licenses to sell the animals that they have, specifically for the la Ruta Maya, so come tomorrow and Friday they can come in to Belize City and get a dealers license to sell the animals that they have."

Jules Vasquez
"But a dealer's license cost two thousand dollars."

Rasheeda Garcia :Wildlife Officer
"This is the price set out in the law for dealer's licenses and this is an annual license, but again the department is setting this one hundred dollars license specifically to cater to the public and to this situation, to show our willingness to work with the public basically."

Jules Vasquez
"Would you be able to afford that?"

Alma Belgrove - Cooking Game Meat
"All my little money has gone on buying the preparation for this thing."

Jules Vasquez
"So that next hundred will put you at a deficit? And are you able to afford it? Can you scrape it up?"

Alma Belgrove - Cooking Game Meat
"I don't know, i don't see it yet, I spent out all my little money to buy the things that we need and to try and prepare for the cooking the seasoning, the beans, the rice and the other stuff."

Jules Vasquez
"Is that an acceptable option for you all? Is that a feasible option?"

Ardeth McFadzean, Chairlady - Double Head Cabbage
"Jules, I cannot speak on that point for the venders, a 100 dollars for people in this time is not easy for people in the river valley to find, ok, but again it is still unfair. Three days before the race? These people have invested all that they have already."

Winford Broaster - Organizer
"We don't have any problem with the law, because law is the law you cannot break the law, but the thing is, they come and impose it on us a couple day before the race. Now all the villagers have already invested their little money for this occasion."

Jules Vasquez
"What will happen?"

Ardeth McFadzean, Chairlady - Double Head Cabbage
"Jules, I don't know what will happen, But what I will advise the villagers if we don't get a permit, we don't sell these things. We don't want to get into any problem with them. Then I guess we will not have any game meat, and I guess what will la Ruta Maya be, without game meat."

Best reports say that those hundred dollars handling licenses can be obtained effective tomorrow in the city at the Lands Department.

We note that it is also presently the closed season for all game meat except peccary and deer. We'll keep following the story to see what gives….

Channel 7