ERI And The Central Belize Wildlife Corridor On Fire
The Environmental Research Institute (ERI) was launched in January 2010. Now after four years of hard work and dedication the ERI continues growing and blooming with the third week of February being nothing short of transformational! We were joined by special visitors from our partner organization, Panthera which is a non-profit conservation organization devoted to protecting the world's 37 wild cat species. The CEO of Panthera, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz is an American zoologist, conservationist, and field biologist. He was accompanied by Howard Quigley, Director of Panthera’s Jaguar program, and Susie Weller, Communications Officer for the organization. Their visit took them to Cockscomb where Dr. Rabinowitz had a chance to visit where his jaguar conservation efforts began. Bright and early on Wednesday February 19th, Dr. Rabinowitz along with ERI’s Terrestrial Science Director, Dr. Elma Kay, visited with the hosts of Channel 5’s early morning TV show “Open Your Eyes” both Doctors were able to talk about the importance of jaguar conservation, the use of biological corridors and the wonderful partnership between ERI and Panthera.
On February 20th, came the inauguration of additional installations on the ERI compound. Speakers at the opening ceremony included ERI’s Administrative Director, Dr. Leandra Ricketts; Acting UB President and Chair of UB’s ERI Steering Committee, Dr. Wilma Wright along with Dr. Kay and Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. Panthera, Bull Ridge Co. Ltd., Yalbac Ranch and Cattle Cooperation (YRCC), and Bull Run Overseas Ltd. played an important role in making the building a reality. During the ceremony, partners in the construction of the wooden building were recognized with plaques that will be placed on the conference walls to honour their collaboration and generosity. The Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) panelling in the conference room came from trees logged in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, which Bull Ridge Co. Ltd. currently manages under a long-term forest license. The Sapodilla (Manikara zapota) forming the exterior panelling and the Jobillo (Astronium graveolens) used on one of the conference room walls were harvested, milled and donated by the YRCC. Their production is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), while their Iguana Creek Mill is certified under FSC's chain of custody standards. The short ceremony was followed by the cutting of the ribbon by Hon. Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development & Dr. Rabinowitz. Guests then had a chance to tour the new installations which houses our new laboratory, conference room and storage area. Later at the cocktail hour, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz sat with a group of eager Natural Resource Management Students from the University of Belize to share his many experiences where he gave an insight into his past and encourage the new generation to sustain the future of Belize.
Finally on Friday, February 21st, at the Black Orchid Resort, Burrell Boom Village a Conservation Action Planning Workshop for the Central Belize Corridor (CBC) was held. The Conservation Action Plan is being created by local stakeholders with guidance from a task force made up of professionals from a number of organizations working in the CBC. Friday’s session was an especially meaningful one since a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed to establish and protect Belize’s biological corridors that function as habitats for jaguars. Parties to the MOU have agreed to establish and develop programs of cooperation in consultation with stakeholders, and develop strategies for biological corridors in Belize, especially the CBC, this would serve to connect the core natural areas. They will also promote the conservation of the corridors’ biological diversity, the maintenance of the vital functions of the corridor-and-core ecosystem and their integrated management. Another notable feature of the MOU is its aim to ensure that proposed corridors remain ecologically functional as well as supportive of the livelihoods of the residents of these areas. Signatories to the MOU included the Government of Belize, through the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development (MFFSD), the University of Belize through the ERI, and Panthera. Signing on behalf of MFFSD, was Hon. Senator Lisel Alamilla; Dr. Alan Rabinowitz signed on behalf of Panthera while Dr. Wilma Wright, Acting President signed for the University of Belize. Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. By the signing of this document we are securing a bright future for Belize’s people and our biodiversity.
After such an eventful week, the ERI is evermore committed to continue its conservation efforts and to keep empowering the decision makers with scientific data, all with the goal of positively influencing Belize’s sustainable development.