Drawing of a Hickatee Turtle, October is Hickatee Awareness Month
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Wednesday October 2, 2019

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Drawing of a Hickatee Turtle, October is Hickatee Awareness Month

The Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii), also known locally as the hickatee or tortuga blanca (white turtle), is the only living species in the family Dermatemydidae

It is a relatively large-bodied species, with historical records of 60 cm (24 in) and weights of 22 kg (49 lb); however, more recent records have found few individuals over 14 kg (31 lb) in Mexico or 11 kg (24 lb) in Guatemala.

Conservation efforts in Belize

On 7 December 2010, the first hickatee conservation forum and workshop was held at the University of Belize, Belmopan campus presented by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), in collaboration with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), the Environmental Research Institute at UB and the Belize Fisheries Department. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together members of the scientific community, government officials, NGOs and civil society to share information regarding the critically endangered Dermatemys mawii.

The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), an international conservation partnership, is committed to preventing turtle extinctions. Focusing on species ranked critically endangered, the TSA supports projects or programs around the world with an emphasis on Madagascar and Asia. An important aspect of the meeting was to share the results of a recent country-wide survey of hickatee; it was conducted in April–May, and was supported by TSA in conjunction with local NGOs, and civil society under the authority of the Belize Fisheries Department. Results of the survey indicated the population is clearly headed towards extinction in Belize unless conservation measures are put in place. Local population extinctions have been documented, and current harvesting rates have been determined to be unsustainable. When compared to previous surveys, the most recent survey indicates the overall populations of hickatee continue to decline across the nation.

Captive turtle breeding program in Belize

A study, managed by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and conducted on Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE) property in Belize, began in early 2011 and is a low-maintenance operation focused on generating Dermatemys food plants, while exploring husbandry details, such as egg laying and incubation. Located in southern Belize along the Bladen River, BFREE encompasses 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) of forest and is situated among four protected areas (Bladen Nature Reserve, Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve, Deep River Forest Reserve and Maya Mountain Forest Reserve), which enhances the possibility of a successful breeding program.

The goal of the program is to generate hatchlings and release them to repopulate already depleted wild populations and, ultimately, relieve pressures of local populations. The program has the potential to be expanded once it is determined whether the species can be reliably reproduced in good numbers in captivity.

Drawing courtesy Archive du Museum D'Histoire Naturelle

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