Archive for Ranger Conversations

Ranger Conversation: Rosendo Coy

Rosendo Coy

Rosendo Coy

Rosendo Coy is simultaneously one of the newest and most experienced rangers on our staff. This is because of the nine years he worked with Belize Lodge Excursions, a private lodge located near the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve. When he came to Ya’axche, Mr. Coy brought a wide range of skills with him. In addition to serving many years as a forest ranger, he is a special constable (can make arrests in lieu of a police officer being present), a licensed tour guide, a boat captain and is certified in CPR. His favorite part of working with Ya’axche are the patrol routes that he does in Bladen Nature Reserve, and he is particularly fond of the transect monitoring he does on those routes.

Having someone with so much experience is a great asset for Ya’axche, but Mr. Coy wasn’t always so knowledgeable. Early on in his tenure with his former employer he went on patrol with some other rangers down the Golden Stream in kayaks. This was his first time on a kayak, and it would prove to be a memorable one! He had only a vague idea how to balance the watercraft and spilled out of it nearly as quickly as he got in. That earned a chuckle from his coworkers. He found a pail and starting bailing out the water in his boat, eventually emptying enough so it would float again. But after once again climbing in and setting his sites downstream, the kayak flipped a second time. More scooping, more laughter. But the third time was the charm and Mr. Coy was finally able to bring his kayak under control and continue the patrol downstream. Until they came to the waterfall.

Now the waterfall only fell about three feet since this was the height of the dry season, but to get to it meant navigating a winding course of rocks and currents. “No problem,” said Mr. Coy, “whatever happens, I’ll be fine.” And he set off. Navigating like a seasoned pro, he twisted and turned with the river and came up to the top of the waterfall, ready to make the plunge. But a barely-submerged rock had other plans. Coming around the final turn, the bow of the kayak lodged on top of the rock. The stern, however, was still free and rode the rushing water downstream, right over the waterfall. Thus, our novice ranger’s first experience with that particular waterfall was toppling head over heels when his kayak simply rolled and dropped him over its side, straight down the slope of water. His pack came loose and rapidly rushed downstream. Mr. Coy swam and tracked it down. The kayak filled its belly with river water for the third time in the morning and had to be bailed out once again …

Some time later, a much experienced Ranger Coy was taking a tour group down the very same river. He accompanied two children as their parents paddled some distance ahead of them. All of a sudden the three of them heard laughing and whooping from up ahead – right around where that waterfall was located. “I bet you’re parents went over the falls,” he said to the kids with a smile. Sure enough, as they approached they saw two water-logged parents a half-full kayak over to a bank. This time our ranger had no trouble expertly maneuvering the falls as he glided downstream to help his clients. And so, the novice becomes the master.

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Ranger Conversation: Apolonio Kus


Apolonio Kus
Originally uploaded by Ya’axché

Apolonio Kus is one of the four newest rangers at Ya’axche, hired on January 12 of this year. Born in San Miguel, he moved to the local Golden Stream Village when he was five years old. Apolonio is married, and he and his wife Felicita have a four year-old son, Leonardo. Prior to joining Ya’axche, Apolonio worked in construction as a mason and carpenter, but when he saw signs posted for ranger vacancies he came out for an interview.

On his last patrol out into the Bladen nature reserve, he and his team were working to reestablish the boundary between BNR and other local land holdings — the BFREE Field Station, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Maya Mountain Forest Reserve — by locating old signs, clearing bush and, as he adds with a slight chuckle, “collecting ticks.”

Along the trail, the team’s expert eyes spotted a couple very dark feathers lying on the mud. A little digging showed a full bird’s worth of feathers buried under some leaves just off the trail. They had belonged to a great curassow, a near-threatened species native to the area. Unfortunately I’m told they’re delicious, and while hunting them is not illegal in Belize extracting any plant or animal from any of Belize’s three nature reserves is. So the team made a record of the incident and recorded their location on GPS. Future plans invlove electronically mapping hunting and extraction incidents so as to better plan patrol routes for intervention.

White-lipped Peccary

White-lipped Peccary

Apolonio’s favorite part of his job is going out on patrols, and seeing animals grazing peacefully in their natural environment is one of his favorite activities. But even this can be dangerous in the jungles of Toledo. While eating lunch on a riverbank one day, Apolonio and his team heard some peccaries a little ways away. They quietly walked toward a clearing where they saw 30 animals grazing. The men watched the group for a while before being spotted. One animal let out a soft “harumph” and suddenly 50 more animals appear in the clearing from the forest. This is not good. These groups are proficient in killing jaguars and fer-de-lances. Three guys with machetes won’t stand a chance if the pigs decide to charge. So the rangers high-tailed it out of there, each climbing the nearest tree they could. After some time, Apolonio decides to climb down and he starts banging his machete against some rocks. Eventually they do leave.

When I asked whether the peccaries were scared away by the noise or simply left because they chose to, Apolonio shrugged, raised his eyebrows and said, “I don’t know.”

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Ranger Conversation: Victor Bonilla

I just had a conversation with one of our rangers, Victor Bonilla, who recently returned from a 10-day patrol out at Bladen Nature Reserve. He came in to the office today on his day off and I caught him for a moment to ask about his latest foray into the high jungle.

victor-ranger-convo-090213Along with his team, fellow rangers Abelino Zuniga and Alejandro Ical, Victor made daily trips into the nature reserve and one long three-day “long trek” to points further away from the ranger station. The primary job of the long trek was to find and record hunting camps in the forest. Hunting any species is illegal in a nature reserve, but that doesn’t stop some people. A consistent challenge for the rangers and the organization is to prevent local villagers from hunting on protected land, land that while having been hunted for hundreds of years is now restricted to research and educational usage only. The team came across a variety of camps and destroyed them so if the hunters return they know the rangers know they’re there. It’s very rare that the rangers would actually meet the hunters face to face.

Collared peccary, not as common around here as the White-lipped peccary

Collared peccary, not as common around here as the White-lipped peccary

The species most commonly targeted are the white-lipped peccary (whose droves of up to 75-100 individuals have been known to kill jaguars, one of their chief predators), the paca (a 25-30 pound rodent known locally as the “Queen’s rat”), the great curassow (similar to a pheasant), red brocket and white-tail deer and the machaca (a flavorful, yet boney fish).

The patrols also noted significant xate destruction from the clearing of hunting paths. Xate loss is a significant problem in local forests, though normally the problem is caused by illegal harvest by groups called Xateros. Xate is very popular in Europe and the US for floral arrangements and it grows naturally in the Belizean wilderness. But harvesting it from that wilderness is illegal.

Xate

Xate

Another common activity on patrol is bird monitoring. Victor will find a one kilometer stretch of land he wants to monitor. He’ll start at one end and listen for bird calls for 10 minutes, recording the species he hears. Then he’ll head about 200 meters down the line and record what he hears there for 10 more minutes. By the time he’s covered the kilometer, he’ll have stopped at six stations listening for bird calls. On his last patrol he identified 34 distinct calls, and he can recognize over 300 of the 582 birds registered in the Birds of Belize field book. Quite a talent! While doing this he’ll also record any animal tracks he comes across, noting which of the large mammal species frequent that area.

He also told me a story about the last recorded Harpy eagle pair seen in the area. Unfortunately a research group of 18 people all went to see them last April and it’s presumed their presence startled the territorial birds who have since moved to a different section of the jungle. Harpy eagles are the apex raptor species in the area and one of the largest eagles in the world. They skim over the jungle canopy picking off monkeys from the treetops.

After a 10 day patrol, the rangers have five days off. Victor has been using this time to clean up his family’s corn farm, do some personal birding and come to town to run errands.

This is the first of what will be many ranger conversation which we’ll publish here. These hard working men have some really great stories which I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading. Keep checking this site for more updates!

Ya'axche Conservation Trust Rangers, 2009

Ya'axche Conservation Trust Rangers, 2009

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