Condoning Illegal Croc Feeding Sends the Wrong Message
San Pedro Sun: Editorial
Less than a month ago the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) team from Punta Gorda traveled to Ambergris Caye at the request of the Belize Forest Department (BFD) to remove two problematic American Crocodiles from the WASA Lagoon south of San Pedro Town. Why did the BFD consider these animals problematic and potentially dangerous? For years locals have been illegally feeding them as a tourist attraction. Once these animals learn to associate man with dinner it is just a matter of time before someone will get hurt, or even killed. According to Belize law it is a CRIME to feed the crocodiles. Under Chapter 220 of the laws of Belize Wildlife Protection Act molesting (including feeding) wildlife is punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in prison. This should be cause enough to deter people from partaking in this practice, and even though ACES and the BFD have campaigned tirelessly through this paper and other media sources on the many reasons why this practice should come to an end it falls on deaf ears.
Just last Saturday a huge crowd gathered at the WASA Lagoon to watch local guys draw in crocodiles with baited ropes to tease the animals while they entertained the audience of tourists and residents alike. At least five crocodiles from large (approximately 10 feet) to small participated in the feeding frenzy while reconfirming in their primitive brains, "MAN EQUALS FOOD". Although this ongoing practice seems to be a mainstay on the island there are a few factors here that are beyond acceptable.
First of all there is a HUGE sign posted by the BFD at the WASA Lagoon that clearly states that it is illegal to feed the crocs, so no one can claim they did not know the law. On Saturday one of the bystanders called the San Pedro Police to report the illegal activity and asked them to please contact the South Ambergris Caye Police Substation. The police never showed up and it is not known if the call to the sub-station was ever placed. But the most disturbing thing about this was Belize's very own Tourism Minister Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. was a part of the crowd. This is not the first time the Minister has been seen at WASA Lagoon during these feedings and it is disappointing that he partakes in an activity that is not only illegal but could put an end to tourism as we know it on San Pedro. What kind of message does this tell the other locals who know and recognize him in the crowd? Won't they think, "If it is OK for the Tourism Minister to disrespect the law then what is the big deal?" Does the Tourism Minister understand the long and short-term effects of this illegal practice and does he not realize what the ramifications will be when someone is attacked by one of these crocodiles? It is not a matter of IF, but WHEN, and you can be certain the Internet and media houses will make it worldwide news when one of these crocs decides that a tourist tastes better than chicken.
I can just see the media spin, with accusations that the Belize Tourism Minister was not only fully aware of the illegal activities but enjoyed partaking in them as well. As a bystander who did nothing to enforce the law, our very own Minister of Tourism will be accused of condoning this illegal act. Instead of setting an example that there should be an end to this illegal feeding our Tourism Minister is all but promoting it.
San Pedro has faced enough challenges with the tourism industry and we have invested so much in promoting our island. What a shame it would be to have our hard work and dollars lost with an accident that could have been prevented. The far reaching negative publicity would be devastating. There are many ways for our tourists and residents alike to enjoy watching the exotic wildlife of Ambergris Caye, but illegally feeding them is not one of them.
We invite the Tourism Minister to join us in the campaign to end this island ritual and help send the message that not only do the residents of Ambergris Caye abide by Belizean law by protecting our wildlife, we are committed to protecting our guests from emanate danger as well.http://www.sanpedrosun.com/news/condoning-illegal-croc-feeding-sends-wrong-message/