Archive for The Animals of Our Protected Areas

Endangered Species Day – Looking at the Baird’s Tapir

In celebration of Endangered Species Day, we want to introduce you to an endangered species found in our protected areas – the Baird’s Tapir.

Tapir caught on motion-activated camera in the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve

Tapir caught on motion-activated camera in the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (Photo: Ya'axche)

The Baird’s tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal found in the woodlands of Central America.  It is one of three tapir species found in the Americas (there is an additional species found in Malaysia) and the largest land mammal in Central America.

Tapirs have a distinctive prehensile nose which it uses to pick leaves and fruit.  Because of this appendage they appear to be an odd cross between a pig and an elephant, though they are more closely related to horses and rhinoceroses.

Globally they are considered an endangered species, though their status is a little stronger in Belize.  This is because their main threats – habitat destruction and hunting – are more mild in Belize.  With a relatively low human population and about 40% of its landmass under protection, Belize is better equipped than other Central American nations to maintain the large herbivore.  But that’s not to say more can’t be done.  Ongoing threats to the forests of Belize will continue to affect the tapir as agricultural and commercial logging slowly fragment its natural habitat.

A young Baird's tapir

A young Baird's tapir

Most reports of tapir in our protected areas come from rangers who have either heard an animal at night, or seen fresh tracks in the mornings.  Almost exclusively this happens near rivers and streams.

**  Interestingly, a group of tapir is not called a herd, it is called a candle.

(Baby tapir photo creditvia)

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Old Man Lizard

Old Man Lizard

Old Man Lizard

The “Old Man Lizard” is more commonly known as the Helmeted Iguana and is a popular local lizard for its unique looks and docile demeanor. As they rely almost exclusively on their camouflage for defense, they will sit amazingly still, even when approached.

The “old man” reference comes from the apparent gray “beard” made by the frills around its neck and throat which give the animal a scruffy appearance.  They’ll grow to over a foot long, with half their length in their tail.  Their most distinctive feature, however, is their crest which they can raise – while also puffing out their throat scales – when excited.  Males have significantly larger crests than do females.

The animals are found throughout Central American forests (Mexico to Columbia) and are generally found in and among trees where they’ll often rest looking straight up the stem.  Like many iguanas and casque lizards they eat insects, arachnids, worms and smaller lizards.  In some regions of the world, they are a popular house pet.

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Jaguar

Jaguar Captured on Motion-Activated Camera

Well-Camouflaged Jaguar Captured on Motion-Activated Camera

No commentary on the animals of Belize can exclude the jaguar.  Likely no other species gets as much press, attention or coverage as Panthera onca.  It’s an apex predator, the subject of myth and legend, the only of the four “big cats” in the Western hemisphere, and a fantastically beautiful animal.

The jaguar has similar coloration to the African leopard, with the jaguar being the bulkier of the two.  Its preference for dense rainforest and affinity for water gives it something in common with the tiger, and makes Belize and the Maya Mountain Massif an ideal habitat.  In fact, the tiny nation of Belize has the highest jaguar population in Central America.

Jaguar Smile (via Wikipedia)

Jaguar Smile (via Wikipedia)

It eats larger herbivores, including deer, tapirs and peccaries.  (However, coordinating in droves of over 70 animals, peccaries have been known to kill jaguars.)  Along riverbanks they eat turtles and fish.  The jaguar’s bite is so powerful it can easily bite through turtle shells.  Jaguars have the strongest bite of any of the big cat species and have capitalized on that with a unique hunting style.  Whereas most felines will attack its prey’s neck in order to suffocate the animal, jaguars are capable of simply biting down on an animal’s head, crushing its prey to death.  Similarly interesting, jaguars have been seen dabbing at the surface of water with their tail.  When eager fish come to investigate, the big cat sweeps them up with their clawed paws!

Jaguars have a menacing growl.  Follow this link to sound files provided by the Belize Zoo.

Jaguar Print

Jaguar Print

Where their habitat borders against that of humans, jaguars have been reported to attack livestock, though not humans.  In fact, the shy creatures rarely come in contact with humans, making any glimpse of them a rare treat.  On our lands we frequently see jaguar tracks, but even our most experienced rangers will claim no more than one sighting over their many years in the bush.

In Belize, jaguars have been a catalyzing species for conservationists.  Considered a keystone species (one whose health is a determinant for the health of other species), they are the subject of significant study.  In 1986, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was established for the preservation of key jaguar habitat.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that region is currently at carrying capacity for jaguars, though I cannot find a linkable source for that at this time.  Bordering Cockscomb is our very own Bladen Nature Reserve, whose jaguar population is as yet unknown.  We’re currently seeking funding to research this area, which we suspect to have quite a sizeable population.

Camera Trap Flash Makes Interesting Photo Effect

Camera Trap Flash Makes Interesting Photo Effect

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Meet the Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Welcome to another feature article here on the Ya’axche blog.  Every other Friday (opposite our Ranger Conversations) we’ll use this space to highlight a really neat animal that populates the lands managed by Ya’axche.  There are so many to choose from.  The Maya Mountains are one of the most biologically diverse sections of Central America.  We have jaguars and tapirs, toucans and macaws, coral snakes and boa constrictors, crocodiles and Harpy eagles.

Hello!

Hello!

But in honor of our new status as co-manager of Bladen Nature Reserve where, in the words of our Protected Areas Manager, “if you spent a week out there you would probably discover a new species of amphibian,” I’m going to start this section with a frog.  Meet the Red-Eyed Tree Frog.

This colorful frog is named for its iconic eyes.  The red color helps the nocturnal predator see at night as is part of a natural defense tactic called startle coloration.  During the day this frog will pull its legs in and close its eyes while affixing itself to the bottom of a leaf.  Should a predator happen to come by, the frog will open its eyes and startle the intruder with its oddly-colored eyes.  Next it will move its legs revealing its orange feet and blue patches on its side.  During that moment the predator is confused, the frog can hop away to safety.  Imagine your hamburger suddenly opening up to reveal a neon center.  It’d give you pause too!

A frog that can hang out on the under side of a leaf isn’t too big, and the red-eyed tree frog never gets much larger than about 3″.  Females are larger than males.  They eat the likes of crickets, moths and other insects and they’ve been known to eat smaller frogs.  This National Geographic site is really informative, and will let you download an image of the frog for desktop wallpaper.

Bright side coloration, photo from Wikipedia

Bright side coloration, photo from Wikipedia

We have many red-eyed tree frogs on Ya’axche-managed lands, both in the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, and Bladen Nature Reserve. The animals can be found throughout Central America and are not considered an endangered or threatened species.  Nonetheless, excessive forestation is leading to significant habitat loss which makes their future more bleak.  They like to live in lowland, tropical rain forests near rivers, which is also prime real estate for slash-and-burn agriculture.  As a result, and due to their iconic appearance, they are often associated with conservation efforts.

Kermit, meet your technicolor cousin!

We’ll be out of the office on Monday as Belize celebrates Baron Bliss Day.  We’ll be back on Tuesday with another installment of What Do We See in This Picture.  Have a great weekend!

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Update (11 March 2009): I recently read an article discussing the agrochemical threat to amphibians in the Maya Mountain Massif.  Our vigilance and action is critical!

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