Renowned Biologist Shawn Heflick studies American Crocodiles on Ambergris Caye

Explorer, adventurer, biologist and TV host for Python Hunters on National Geographic Wild, Shawn Heflick was in San Pedro Town studying the American Crocodile population. Heflick is a crocodile biologist, specialist and conservationist biologist who has traveled across the globe conducting research and working on the conservation of wildlife. From Sunday, July 19th to Friday, July 24th, Heflick collaborated with crocodile specialist Dr. Marisa Tellez in studying the behavior, health and habitats of the American Crocodile. Belize is one of the last strongholds for the species, but due to development, the American Crocodile population is starting to face several issues.

As part of his studies, Heflick visited several areas in San Pedro in search of crocodiles. Observation was focused on the state of crocodile habitats and the health of the species. Heflick identified several problems crocs are facing, especially due to development. According to Heflick, many crocodiles linger close to civilization and this raises many red flags. “In the first days here, we saw quite a few crocodiles, typically at night and they seem to be focused around some resort and construction areas. We believe that this may be because they are being fed by tourists and staff. But this can present many issues for the island with crocodile-human conflict. Belize is very fortunate to have a good population of this species and they should take measures to keep it that way. Feeding wild animals is not the way to go,” said Heflick.

He also stated that the increase in mangrove clearing is affecting not only the American crocodile population but the entire ecosystem. Crocodiles are apex predators and are needed to keep the balance within nature. Crocodiles are one of the oldest living creatures to roam the earth and contribute greatly to the balance in marine ecosystems. “If crocodiles are eliminated, then the balance of nature will be destroyed and the entire ecosystem will collapse. When you degrade the mangrove ecosystem, then the whole population will crash.” Heflick stated that several hatchlings were found to be emaciated and in very poor condition, that can potentially lead to death. “The hatchlings use the mangroves as nurseries, but if development eliminates these habitats then the hatchlings, have nowhere to go. Apart from the destruction of habitats, the constant development is causing waste, such as garbage and even chemical run off to end up in the area the hatchlings call home. The minute you start filling up land, you are actually tampering with salinity levels, because you are cutting off water ways. People need to be careful on how they develop,” said Heflick.

Education is one of the major solutions to the issues San Pedro faces when it comes to crocodiles. “If done right, Crocodiles can be a big draw for tourism. People need to live around them, but at the same time not interact with them. The community needs to be educated properly. If they know what is right from wrong then they will then pass that on to tourists. When it comes to educating tourists on the do’s and don’ts in relation to crocodiles, signage plays a big role. Trust me, if people see the same message many times, they will eventually get it,” explained Heflick. He also stated that conservationists need to work together with locals in order to reach the set goal. “No one can come in and force something on a community. Organizations need to foster a relationship with the community so that they can then educate them on what needs to be done to protect the species. I have traveled all over the world and I understand that in order to get things done, you need to support of the local authorities and community and this can only be achieved if you gain their trust. We need the make the community see how important the American Crocodiles are to their ecosystem so in return, they understand why they need to care for them,” explained Heflick.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun