Understanding Game Hunting in Belize
Imagine a Belize without enough game to hunt, or game meat to eat or sell. In Belize, game hunting is as traditional as farming more so in rural areas where many depend on it for their livelihood. Game meat can be found as the main staple of many households and in high demand at local markets. However, this Belizean way of living is under threat.
Over-hunting threatens to deplete wild preys that play key roles in maintaining ecological processes. For example, the lack of wildlife to disperse seeds gradually hinders forest regeneration leading to a change in forest composition. Secondly, reduced numbers of commonly hunted wildlife such as pacas (Cuniculus paca), locally known as gibnut, and collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) threatens food security for future generations. This also means less food for jaguars, leading to livestock predation and economic loss to farmers.
Over hunting has imperilled Belize’s environmental, social and economic wellbeing, but how do we fix this? How do we effectively manage hunting so that it is sustainable in the long-term? The first step is to understand hunters and the intricacies of their hunting activities. This year, students from the University of Belize and interns under the Environmental Research Institute’s (ERI) wildlife program, Mercedes Valdez and Krishna Montero, have been surveying hunters in villages around the Central Belize Corridor (CBC).
The CBC is important not only in the conservation of large mammals but also their prey, which include those that are commonly hunted. Wildlife such as jaguars and white-lipped peccaries need huge tracts of forest to maintain viable populations. The CBC allows the free movement of wildlife from north to south of the country preventing the isolation of these wide-ranging species.
Mercedes and Krishna worked under the supervision of Yahaira Urbina (Panthera-ERI junior wildlife biologist) and Dr. Rebecca Foster (Director Panthera’s Belize Jaguar Program) on a project entitled “Quantifying game hunting in and around the Central Belize Corridor”. The study aims to understand motivation, strategies and rates of off-take by hunters in and around the CBC.
The interns joined the research team after intensive training in survey data collection. The team interviewed a total of 69 hunters within 16 villages in and around the CBC. They gathered information on hunting strategies, hunters’ attitudes and demographics for the surveyed areas.
Analysis of the CBC hunter database developed during this project will continue with funding from Panthera, to quantify and map the off-take rates per species and assess sustainability of harvests. The project is the first crucial step in understanding the hunting activities in the country which will ultimately help guide the Government to develop management plans for hunters in Belize.
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