Raccoons - for most of us they're pests of the highest order, turning over your garbage, and being quite nasty and vicious in the process.
But for Jacob Cabral of Caye Caulker - three baby raccoons were just lovable pets - not pests - and additionally, he would use them to attract tourists.
Well the Forestry Department said that was "Unlawful Possession of Forest Produce" and he was fined $2,000 dollars in San Pedro Magistrate's Court.
The Forest Department visited Cabral's business on Caye Caulker in August and found him with the five week old raccoons - which he uses for wildlife tourism.
The raccoons were confiscated and taken to the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic for rehabilitation with the hope that they will eventually be returned to the wild. v A release quotes Forest Department Officer, Minerva Gonzalez, as saying that while raccoons may look adorable, they are wild animals and should not be treated as pets. She added that even "tamed" raccoons are extremely high maintenance, unpredictable, destructive, and are notorious biters. Most importantly, raccoons pose a major health risk to people and other pets. They are known carriers of parasites and infectious diseases, including rabies. Their natural instinct is to bite when they're angry, frustrated, or stressed." Consequently, Gonzalez advised that for the sake of human safety and protection, residents should immediately report any possession or illegal captivity of wild animals to the Forest Department.
Raccoons Rescued, Rehabilitated, and Released
Jacob Cabral appeared yesterday before Magistrate Janelle Villanueva in San Pedro Town where he was arraigned on a charge of “Unlawful Possession of Forest Produce”. He was ordered to pay a fine of two thousand dollars by March 30, 2018. If he defaults on payment he will serve up to six months behind bars. According to the Forest Department, Cabral had three raccoons in his possession at his business place on Caye Caulker Village. The Department says that he claimed that the three five-week-old raccoons were given to him as a gift and was using the animals for wildlife tourism. The raccoons were confiscated and taken to the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic and later to Wildtracks for rehabilitation. A representative from Wildtracks told us that the raccoons successfully completed their rehabilitation program. The raccoons have been released softly, meaning that a tracker is placed on them and they are fed with supplementary nutrients until they can fully be released into the wild. According to Forest Officer, Minerva Gonzalez, raccoons pose a major health risk to people and other pets. They have known carriers of zoonotic parasites and infectious diseases, including rabies.
Caye Caulker Man Wrong to Keep, Display Wild Raccoon Family
It is not surprising for residents in rural areas of the country to be found in possession of certain wildlife species. As a matter of fact, in some southern communities one would often come across an encaged parrot or a coati being kept as a pet. So when a resident of Caye Caulker was hauled before the court on Tuesday for unlawfully keeping a family of young raccoons, the resulting charge probably took him by surprise. Jacob Emmanuel Cabral appeared before Magistrate Janelle Villanueva on November seventh where he was arraigned for unlawful possession of forest produce. That’s because he was busted at his place of business in mid-August with three, five-week-old raccoons that he was purportedly using for wildlife tourism. That practice is against the law and Cabral has been taught an expensive lesson when he was fined two thousand dollars. Not only do the animals pose a health risk, they are also extremely high maintenance and very aggressive. Earlier this evening, News Five spoke with Forest Officer Minerva Gonzalez who explained the unusual nature of the criminal offence.
On the Phone: Minerva Gonzalez, Forest Officer
“We received the report, we immediately responded and we found that Mr. Jacob Cabral had in his possession three raccoons and they were apparently about five-weeks-old. Reportedly, he was using them for wildlife tourism. He would allow tourists to take pictures with them and this was done in the public’s eye. We charged him under unlawful possession of forest produce because forest produce includes not only trees, but wild animals, dead animals and et cetera. There are many products that we take out of the forest and those are considered forest produce, of which wild animals are forest produce. Wild animals, the public has to understand and we must spread awareness on this topic that wild animals are not adorable pets. Wild animals are wild. They are known to carry many diseases that can be passed on to humans and specifically raccoons can pass on rabies and tuberculosis to children and adults and even pets.”
“Is this an usual occurrence to the Forest Department? I know it’s unusual for us in the media, but is it something that you guys come across often or is it something that stands out as a rarity?”
On the Phone: Minerva Gonzalez
“It has become a pattern and we realize that we need to work hand in hand with the B.T.B. and to the different public entities to increase awareness and to educate the people on how to prevent or use wildlife as tourism or for business.”
“Would the same then apply for someone who decides to keep dangerous snakes, for instance, for show to tourists who would come visiting their establishments or what have you?”
On the Phone: Minerva Gonzalez
“There are only a few companies that have specific expertise to manage wildlife and those are the ones who require special licenses to do this. Wildlife management, I reiterate, requires special expertise and permits and those are the ones that are allowed to have these animals with special licenses.”
Cabral must pay the fine by March thirtieth, 2018 or face up to six months imprisonment. The five-week-old raccoons were transported to the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic for rehabilitation.