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Tonight, the phantom Ostrich of the West has finally been revealed - and 7News went to the farm today.

The three Ostriches kept in a pen on Nancy Marin's farm are her attempt to start breeding the animal as both poultry and a source of leather, among other bi-products.

But she's having a hard time getting started because of what she believes to be the government's close-mindedness.

She's also been charged upwards of $5,000 BZD for the required monitoring of the animals by an as yet unknown department, likely BAHA.

And in the meantime her possession of the animal is effectively illegal. Nevertheless, she invited Cherisse Halsall and cameraman Codie Noralez up to the farm to get a glimpse of a bird that's truly alien to the Belizean landscape. Here's what our team saw:

This is Belize People's Front's party leader Nancy Marin's farm, it's home to a menagerie of animals, including geese, giant rabbits, and even peacocks.

But more recently there's been a new addition to the farm, an animal that some would call exotic but one that Nancy sees a merely poultry.

Yup it's the long rumored Belizean Ostrich - a phantom up until now - but as real as flesh and feathers. Marin says she acquired these at around $2,000 each from an unnamed purveyor who had illegally imported them from Mexico.

I'm standing inside an Ostrich pen, a Belizean Ostrich pen.

And while these animals have been in the national conversation for quite a few months now it's certainly not the first time they've been imported to Belize. It's just the first time that their existence has been put on the record. Their owner Nancy Marin applied for a permit to breed them for livestock but she's only been ** Offerred** the type of permit to keep them as an exotic pet.

But Marin says that the permit being offered doesn't do anything for her because her plan is to rear these giant birds for an agro-industry.

Nancy Marin - Aspiring Ostrich Breeder
"And so what m I going to do with it, sit and look at it, that's not what I applied for. I don't want a permit to keep a wildlife, this is not a wild life this is a livestock. I want to farm it because I want to make money off of it and I want to create employment in this country with this. And I don't know what part of that they don't understand but they try to make it impossible, so every time government pretends the they are going to be nice and they are going to give you something but behind the scenes they are charging me an additional 5000 dollars for monitoring but they don't want to tell me or who will conduct the monitoring, because there's nobody qualified in forestry or in that entire ministry to conduct monitoring."

And that monitoring will be absolutely necessary because, as with anything new, there are legitimate fears about these animals and the impact they could have on the Belizean ecosystem

Celso Poot
"The problems exotic have caused to natural ecosystems, to natural systems, while I haven't seen and I don't know the purpose of the ostriches that are being imported into Belize,I cannot comment on why their here what they are doing here but I can say that the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education centre and I'm sure most of the conservation community in Belize would say no to exotic species in Belize. We have an issue in Belize with enforcement, if we cannot enforce for the native wildlife, how are we going to enforce management of exotics? That's a disaster in the making for us."

Nancy Marin
"As a pet owner and a farmer I'll tell you that if my cat goes missing, I go out looking for it. My dog went out of the gate and I had my whole neighborhood searching for it, we had it all over social media, I was about to call you guys to find my dog. There's no way that any farmer or pet owner with enough conscience would let an animal go and we would leave it. How can an animal like this get loss? Do you think I'm going to sit here and say oh an ostrich got away and what ever, no, we would go find it. If the animal get out of hand we need to sacrifice it the more meat for us."

And those pressing concerns about Ostrich importation were all considered by BAHA's researchers when they determined minimal risk. Here's the opinion that we got from the Director of the Animal Health Department earlier today.

Miguel Depaz - Director Animal Health Department, BAHA
"An Ostrich is a bird a flightless bird and we have an industry to protect, an industry that worth perhaps more that 600 million dollars with direct cost and infrastructure and equipment and what have you. So we have a industry to protect and we must determine the risk when we import ostrich, so it was our responsibility to conduct a risk analysis. At times, risk analysis takes long, at times it could be very short. In this instance, it took us some while to conclude the risk analysis and the conclusion of that risk analysis is that the risk is insignificant."

But despite that minimal endorsement from BAHA, Nancy still has a long way to go before she'll convince forestry to remove those stipulations and until such time as she accepts the permit they've offered, she is in fact holding these ostriches illegally.

She says she took a big risk in allowing us to put them on the record but she believes it's a necessary one that will familiarize the public with this species.

Nancy Marin
"The more farmers start to pick up the ostrich, the bigger the industry becomes, the more feasible, the better for our economy, they can tax us on it, that's fine, they can do what they want but don't try to put high prices and fees and things to try to prevent us from doing new. They promised us new industries, they made a lot of promises to us and it is not fair that they try to block us, it's simply not fair."

Not fair to her because there are other ostrich farms in the country - flying under the radar - so to speak. So, why should Marin be made to give her birds up?

Nancy Marin
"I do believe that it is because of who I am, I think that I have been told by the highest office in Belize that some of the ministers hold grudges on me, that I've embarrassed them, that one of them think that I am intimidating, I'm just a simple woman how can I intimidate a big powerful man but at the end of the day, that is their opinion and this is where we are but it's not fair and I'm not going to let them discourage me, I'm not going to let them stop me, this is my country and I will fight them and I will survive and maybe I'm just a simple woman standing against all these men but I'm not afraid of them, I'm not afraid of the consequences which is why I allow you guys to come and see that I do have ostriches, I'm not going to hide it and I wish that the men that have the ostriches in Belize can be brave and come forward and say I have ostriches because you've made it impossible for us to do it the right way, so this is the way we're doing it."

Minister of Sustainable Development Orlando Habet told us quote:

"Ostrich farming is new to Belize. Therefore, we must ensure that all requirements are met and that a management plan is set out if we intend to breed, rear, and produce Ostriches and their products and by-products. The fact that Ostriches are already in Belize, albeit illegally, does not allow for the legal process to be shoved under and to do another wrong, for as the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right."

He says that while he is quote: "not necessarily opposed to Ostrich farming in Belize, I am rather trying my best to ensure that all laws and regulations are followed and that my Ministry which is responsible [...]does its due diligence." End quote.

Marin claims to have commissioned a $1,000.00 BAHA report on the risk analysis and feasibility of Ostrich Farming, one she says she's yet to get access to.

Information from personnel at the forestry department - which is responsible for wildlife - is that while Marin has expressed concern over the fees, the permit is for 5 years, and over that time, their monitoring for compliance to ensure that the operation is regulated, breaks down to $19 per month. They go on to say that there will be special requirements if exportation is to be considered.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Ostrich Owner Urges GOB Not To Bury Their Heads In The Sand

Last night we took you to Nancy Marin's farm to show you her three newly acquired ostriches. She bought the male and two females as potential breeders for the livestock farm that she's determined to follow through on.

And interestingly, rather than import them, Marin says that the Ostriches were bought right here in Belizean territory. Nevertheless, her possession of these exotic and technically endangered animals is quite controversial.

But as we told you last night she's not the only Belizean keeper of the world's largest birds. And tonight in an as yet unaired clip Nancy explains why she wasn't shy about calling out what she calls a GOB double standard:

Nancy Marin, Aspiring Ostrich Breeder
"I simply have had the vision and the excitement, the enthusiasm to do something different that the world demands, the demand is higher than the production right now in the world and that is why we see all kinds of countries starting to do Ostriches, Belize cannot stay behind once again. It has been too much, we stay behind on everything else so why not Ostrich. The Ostrich you use everything from it, everything is a source of income. The head, the feathers, the meat, the leather, the feet, the bone."

Miguel Depaz, Director Animal Health Department, BAHA
"We would still require conditions to mitigate the risk that exists, I said it was insignificant meaning that a little bit of risk but you still put measures, the ostrich would have to come in with proof of being negative for certain diseases and so that is what we do and having concluded that the risk is insignificant we were prepared to issue an import permit for the ostriches to be imported. Nevertheless we work with other departments and other departments have regulations too and in this case it's a wildlife we're dealing with and hence wildlife is governed by SITEES, they have rules where they regulate importation of wildlife especially if they are considered an extinct species. So, from our point of view it is okay to issue the import permit but we must respect the rules and regulations of other departments and so that is where we are."

"The potential importer once she gets the green light from that other department meaning the forestry, BAHA is prepared to issue an import permit having concluded the risk analysis."

Nancy Marin, Aspiring Ostrich Breeder
"The four people that I know that have ostriches that are not getting any issues with it are two politicians, and two business people, that I know for a fact that the Ostriches were confiscated by BAHA, and then politicians have told BAHA to return them. Now I don't want to call names because no one is going to sue me about it but it is not fair that some people are allowed. When you confiscate something as a government and you return it then you legitimize the product or whatever it is. And so even though these people people brought it in illegal government told them it is okay they didn't even get a slap on the wrist."

Cherisse Halsall:
"And this has been happening for years, hasnt it?"

Nancy Marin, Aspiring Ostrich Breeder
"The first time I heard about Ostriches in Boom was about 15 years ago and I went to see them about six years ago in the last year I visited some other farms that had ostriches so it is not a secret from government it is a secret from the population government is well aware of who has them, our politicians, our people visit them, it's no secret."

The Ostriches that Nancy Marin bought in Belize are reported to have originated from a ranch in Mexico.

SEMARNAT which is Mexico's Ministry of Natural Resources recognizes these animals as exotic wildlife.

Belize's Ministry of forestry Likewise considers these animals wildlife, and expect that they should be managed and regulated as such.

New Industry Minister Supports Ostrich Industry

And today we asked the Minister of New Growth Industries if he would support an ostrich industry in Belize. He was open to the idea, but added that there needs to be assessments done to see if it is actually a viable industry and that it won't affect the ecosystem. But once it passes those checkmarks, he wouldn't mind greenlighting it as an official industry.

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries
"I vague know about it but I would want to agree with you that since it's a new industry, it ought to have some involvement of our New Growth Industries Ministry and so I'm going to be inquiring from the Ministry of Forestry and the Environment to see what the objections are because I believe there may be concerns because it's not an animal that is native to Belize that in fact there may be."

"Some issues with introducing it into our ecosystem but I would have to see what those concerns are. If you ask me right off the bat, I would say I encourage all new industries but of course we have to look at any negative effects that may come from introducing the new species to Belize but if there are no concerns, I fully support."

He added that, so far, no one has approached him with the idea.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Belize Ready To Open Up to Ostrich

In February, we visited Nancy Marin's farm in Georgeville, Cayo for a fascinating look at the imported exotic birds - that looked very odd in this tropical setting. Marin wanted to open the conversations about starting a new ostrich meat industry - but she was all tangled up in red tape between BAHA and the Forestry Department - which made it seem that her plan was about as grounded as one of her flightless birds.

But, the clouds have cleared and BAHA has now taken the lead in a double edged regulatory process between their office and forestry.

We spoke to the BAHA Chairman this afternoon - who says that - once all the regulatory provisions are met - he's in favor of an ostrich industry for Belize:

Hugh O'Brien, Chairman, BAHA
"My advice as a senior agriculture person in Belize with the background and history that I have and knowledge will be to advise for ostrich farming to be embraced is a new activity for farming in Belize. The decision on whether ostrich can be grown in Belize in terms of a policy is a decision that has to be made primarily by the ministry of agriculture, because its going to be a farmed animal, but because it is an animal enlisted under CITES, because its considered an endangered species, then the forestry department has got to be involved in any decision to grow or not to grow ostrich in Belize. Forestry department is not so concern about the growing of ostrich. Forestry department is concerned about when that whoever is growing ostrich wants to trade the products that are produced, then for those things to be traded the forestry department will have be able to issue CITES certification of origin for those products. So, if you're going to grow ostrich and you're not involved in the forestry department, you are going to have problems when it is time for you to export or even sell your products locally. We had a very clear communication with Miss Nancy Juan Marin who wants to raise ostrich. I explained to her the results of the meeting, I said to her that the first step is that we have to finalize the pest risk analysis and tomorrow they are having their final meeting to finalize the pest risk analysis and once that is finalize, I can give you some inkling. It's not going to be a threat to Belize, based on the initial feedback that I've gotten. Then the next step is to for this ostrich farmer who is Miss Nancy Juan Marin to present to forestry department the origin of the current, I think she has 3-4 ostrich at the farm - the origin of those ostrich. Because you can't start a CITES certification with a blank paper when you have 3-4 on your farm, so essentially we agreed, forestry and BAHA that there are I think 2-3 people with ostriches in Belize. They also have to provide that documentation, if they are going to be interested in expanding their farm operations and forestry is going to provide okay, tell us where you got it, even if you got it illegally from Mexico, let us know which farm it came from and we'll start from there."

"The next step is going to be an inspection of the farm, in this case to make things simple, we're going to do a joing inspection, so BAHA and the forestry department are going to go in together along with the ministry of agriculture and do a joint inspection, make some recommendations, at the same time Miss Nancy Juan already have her management plan fairly well advance in terms of her preparation. So they are going to be sharing ideas on how to improve that managing plan. Once that is complete, there is a one stop process we've put in place now, so somebody does not have to apply to both forestry and BAHA and once she gets the approval which we anticipate to be targeted by the end of June, but some slippages have occurred so we may go into July and our anticipation is that somewhere in July - let us say there is further slippage - late July and maybe early August ostrich farming would be an activity that will be commencing in Belize and government of Belize, the minister of agriculture in particular have already made the decision that ostrich farming will be promoted and there will be efforts to encourage other people to get involve."

Jules Vasquez
"Do you see the Mennonites who are the kings of poultry eventually stepping in to ostrich meat?"

Hugh O'Brien
"Thats an interesting question, but I will say this, we have to be a bit careful. These people are very hard working, they work together, I'm talking about the Mennonites, they work together, they work strategic, they share their resources, they don't have to find cash for all their activities, because of the cooperation system that they have. But I'm saying that in the context that the Mennonites are dominating our food production and processing in Belize and while that is a good thing for food security and so forth, it is not a good thing to some extent. I can go as far as to say my black people, we're not moving ahead. We staying behind and then we now starting to complain that everything that's been done is for the Mennonites and in time it's going to become a bigger problem for us and people are going to say well you know, some of what you have is mine. So, I would advise in a sense the Mennonites maybe, they need to start stepping back from certain things and this might be one of them, like ostrich, leave the sheep farming, leave the vegetable farming, leave the ostrich farming to the non-Mennonite Belizean."

So, that final meeting on the pest risk analysis is being held tomorrow and after that there should be some certainty on the way forward for ostrich meat in Belize. As O'Brien says, he is in favor of forming that industry, once all provisions are met.

But, this isn't your regular chicken, so don't start warming up the grill for an Ostrich barbecue just yet. O'Brien says that Ostrich meat sells for as much as 30 dollars per pound.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP
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Ostrich, Will It Be What's For Dinner?

Back in February when we first told you of ostriches living in Belize, many people scoffed, thinking, "there's no way that'll take flight." Well, we're here to tell you that ostriches are about to become the next big industry in Belize.

That's right - pretty soon you could be seeing grilled ostrich on the menu of your favourite high end restaurant. It's a dream that ostrich farmer, Nancy Marin, has had for the past seven years, along with generating more foreign exchange with a new high value product to export.

And, according to the Ministry of New Growth Industries, that dream may be realised in the next few months.

Courtney Menzies:
"How far are we from this becoming an actual industry in Belize?"

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"I would say we're very close, as you know, over the years, a particular investor, Ms Nancy Marin has expressed a lot of interest in this particular industry and she mentioned it just now, it's some seven years in the making but we're certainly now as a new government, paying close attention to it, getting all of the relevant departments onboard, we just had a very productive and successful meeting with BAHA, we got all of their conditions and their requirements in place, certainly that Ms Marin will be able to meet, likewise Ms Marin has had meetings with the Forestry Department, and so it's just getting all of these conditions in place and so I am expecting within the next couple months, that this should be a new industry for Belize."

Courtney Menzies:
"Is there any reservations that BAHA brought out during the meeting?"

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"Of course there are reservations, like I said, it's considered a wild animal, they've done their risk analysis and they have determined that the risk is fairly insignificant so it's just to ensure that when importing the animal, that we are keeping within the requirements, keeping within these conditions, to make sure, of course, complying with the zoosanitary aspects of it that they're clean and that they're not suffering from any injuries or wounds when importing them, and of course not carrying any disease."

Nancy Marin, Ostrich Farmer
"It was a very highly technical meeting, we discussed the expectations of BAHA and the requirements that we need to fulfil for importation, and the fact that the government will allow ostriches to be the next industry in our country. The next step is that I'm asking that it be classified as livestock, versus being classified as a poultry, so that is where we are at right now. I'm also waiting for the CITES requirements from Forestry, it is important for us to regulate these under CITES because the intention of the industry is to then export the meat so because of exportation, it is important for us to meet all of these regulations and we're happy to and I am personally very glad, finally, I'm getting professional people after seven years of fighting."

Courtney Menzies:
"I remember you saying you had to pay a few thousands for one ostrich, is the investment worth it?"

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"The investment is definitely worth it, and the more we buy, the price will decrease, but also remember that this is just the start that we're buying, we're buying our breeders, the high quality breeders that we need to bring into Belize, after that we produce and ostrich lays 50 to 70 eggs a year and we incubate and even if we get 50 percent, I believe we will get higher, it is still a good start and we will be able to control our market and our prices."

But can ostrich replace beef dishes in restaurants? And just how much will that cost? Plus - will Belizeans be open to eating an animal they've only seen on TV? We asked Marin what she thought.

Nancy Marin, Ostrich Farmer
"My plan right after this is I am going to ask BAHA for a small breeder, a permit for just a small amount of time so that we bring in some meat and key stakeholders to try it, restauranteurs, resort owners, farmers, people that really want to try it, but I can't guarantee you, I've eaten ostrich for years, all over the world you can find it, and it tastes like beef, it is soft like chicken but the flavour is beef, it's a red meat, it's very nice."

Courtney Menzies:
"Do you think it'll be cheaper, because you know most Belizeans can't go into a restaurant and order steak, it's too expensive, do you think it'll be cheaper as well?"

Nancy Marin, Ostrich Farmer
"I think in the beginning as we try, it might be a little pricey, and we can definitely keep an export price, and keep a domestic price. We will control this industry and we will decide what to do, and when I say we, I mean the farmers."

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"It's definitely not something that we accustomed to, seeing ostriches, it is considered wild, it's not considered a domestic animal so to speak, but I think once the farmers get a hang of it, definitely it's going to be something that we'll see more and more farmers considering as an option and from what I am told, it's a very delicious meat, so I look forward to trying it myself."

Diverging Views on Mennonites And Ostriches

And last night, you heard the BAHA chairman, Hugh O'Brien, say that he doesn't think the Mennonite community should get into the ostrich industry, considering that they monopolise the poultry and dairy industries. While Marin agreed with him, the minister isn't too keen on leaving any farmer behind.

Hon. Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs & New Growth Industries
"We are an open and free market and so any group of people, any farmer that's interest in this particular industry can explore and venture and invest in this industry. There's no restriction on who can invest in it, I think what we have to look at is not giving any particular group any incentives or additional concession more than others, it has to be across the board opportunities for all Belizeans, not just a specific group."

Nancy Marin, Ostrich Farmer
"I was also happy to note, I saw you guys interview Mr O'Brien, the new chairman for BAHA, he is fully onboard and I was very happy for his last statement requesting that the mennonites step back off of this industry because my fight for seven years was not just to bring an animal into Belize, or a new species into Belize. My fight is that the farmer of Belize have been left out, we have given up our food sovereignty to the Mennonites and with groceries to the Chinese, but in this case we're focusing on the Mennonites and it is time that local farmers have something for ourselves and this is ostrich."

Courtney Menzies:
"How difficult is it to rear ostriches and do you feel like Belizeans will make the effort, Belizean farmers?"

Nancy Marin, Ostrich Farmer
"You know, I grew up in a cattle ranch so I'm used to livestock, and I will tell you that it is a lot easier, it is a lot easier than rearing cows. So I have gotten interest, we have at least 16 local farmers that are interested, people are texting, saying, I have ten acres, I have fifty acres, how many ostriches could I rear with this amount of land. We can actually rear are ostriches than we can livestock in the amount of land small farmers have. So it's going to be very easy as long as we follow procedures and we keep the health and sanitary confinement of the animals is what is important but as long as we get through that, it will be easy. I think we will have management plan that will be very easy for farmers to follow and we will follow all of the procedures and requirements that both BAHA and Forestry have to give us but we will do that under a very organised structure, we are forming the Association of Ostrich Livestock in Belize."

And according to Marin, the association will be the only organisation that will be allowed to buy ostriches, meaning that individual farmers - or even residents - won't be able to purchase them on their own.

Channel 7

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