Forest Department Begins Investigation into Jaguar Beheading
The cruel slaying of a young jaguar and its dumping in the Belize River has raised the ire of conservationists and the public alike. The cat, which is protected by law, was found dead earlier this week in the Belize River; it had been shot and its head cut off. Another jaguar was found dead in a Belize City canal during the holidays. The Forest Department is investigating and offering a handsome reward for information on who is behind the spate of killings and why. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
Conservationists are outraged that a young male jaguar was shot and killed, beheaded and its body dumped in the Belize River. It was fished out by Mike Heusner, and handed over to the relevant authorities, who have since launched an investigation into the incredible act of violence against wildlife.
On the Phone: Mike Heusner, [File: January 10th, 2018]
“It was caught up in some bushes. It was a young adult jaguar, fairly certain it’s a jaguar – I can’t guarantee it but I think it is – but the head was cut off, it looks pretty obvious that it was cut because it was a clean cut through the skin. Then I saw several pellet holes in the left shoulder and left forearm, and I think that’s probably what killed it; they probably shot it and then cut the head off.”
In this region, Belize has the healthiest population of the jaguar species, which is roughly about a thousand of this type of wildcats. The Forest Department, which is responsible for the protection of wildlife, is not taking this incident lightly because it is the second case in two weeks where dead jaguars were found floating in waterways in or near Belize City.
Shanelly Carrillo, Forest Officer responsible for Wildlife
“Unfortunately it does happen, not very often, but it is very disturbing because it is already the second case in two weeks. Some persons might remember there was one approximately two weeks ago in the canal in Belize City so it is something very disturbing for us and we are taking this very seriously and we have to find out why we have this increase amount of cases happening right now. Unfortunately for the last case two weeks ago, we were not able to find the body; when we went on the ground, we did not find the carcass. So we were not able to further investigate as to what was the possible cause of death. But for this situation which happened yesterday, we have already recovered the carcass and we are going to be following with a necropsy to ensure that we have the correct reason for death and from there on we will continue our investigations because this should not be allowed.”
“You guys are on the ground today?”
“Yes we are, we are scouting the area and finding more information and possibly more evidence.”
But there are many real threats to jaguars, as well as other wildlife. The jaguar is protected under the laws of Belize, but is often killed either because it is a problem cat to farmers or for economic purposes. The teeth, bones and skin of the wildcat are being sought at top prices. Recently, artisans and residents have been prosecuted for possession of wildlife parts, primarily, teeth.
“We have two main reasons why we possible think that it is happening; one is because of human/wildlife conflict where jaguars come and eat cattle, sheep, pigs so sometimes farmers retaliate and kill them. But it can also be because of the body parts. We have seen an increase in demand for the tooth, the claws, the skin; for almost every part of the jaguar so that is driving the demand and that’s why possibly we are having more deaths. Artisans are using these body parts to sell as fine jewelry for very, very high prices. Actually last week, we had an enforcement team out in Placencia where we managed to get and confiscate a lot of artisans’ jewelry which had jaguar and crocodile parts in them.”
There are numerous fines associated with crimes against jaguars and other protected wildlife species. Shanelly Carrillo of the Forest Department says humans and wildlife must cohabitate.
“A person, if you are found killing a jaguar you can be charged a maximum of ten thousand dollars and/or twelve months imprisonment. What we are trying to do is to make sure that people understand that this is an offense and they can get charged for it. So we are improving our enforcement teams out there to make sure that we can take people to court if you are caught doing the wrong thing.”
Ministry Offers Reward For Information on Who Killed Jaguars Found Floating
Yesterday we told you about the young male jaguar whose carcass was found floating in the Belize River. But, disturbingly, this was not an isolated event. Back in December, a similar photo surfaced of another young jaguar that was found in the canal near Water Lane.
This has raised a major red flag for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, and the Environment. Tonight, they are offering a reward of $10,000 dollars to anyone that can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons involved in the two recent incidents.
And more than that, the ministry says that given the cruel nature of the death of these endangered apex predators, they will raise the penalties for this and any other wildlife crimes above the current $10,000 dollars or 12 months in prison.
Today they sent out a release reminding the public that it is illegal to hunt, kill or sell endangered cat species such as jaguars, margays, ocelots, and pumas. In this regard, an enforcement operation in Placencia Village recently yielded confiscations of jewelry made from jaguar teeth.
Belize has the only dedicated jaguar preserve in the world and is known as a world leader in jaguar conservation.