TIDE Releases Rescued Hicatee Turtle into Rio Grande

Thanks to help from local community members, TIDE successfully rescued and released a critically endangered hicatee turtle on January 26th! Elizabeth Kearns and Isabel Carrio happened upon the turtle on an afternoon walk through Punta Gorda, when they were approached by a man selling it from a cooler. Unaware of the significance of their discovery, the two women decided to buy it from the man so that they could free it. A friend soon after recognized the turtle was a hicatee and suggested the women contact TIDE.

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Isabel Carrio and Elizabeth Kearns recovered the hicatee turtle and turned it into TIDE so that it could be released (photo courtesy of Isabel Carrio).

Hicatee is the local name for the Central American river turtle, Dermatemys mawii, which is found only in the rivers of Southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Very slow growing, they take a long time to reproduce and populations are under serious pressure from hunters who harvest them for their meat. To protect them from extinction, the Belize fisheries department has declared a closed season for hunting and banned the purchase or sale of hicatees, in order to limit their removal to traditional subsistence hunting only.

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TIDE Ranger Victor Bonilla and Research Assistant Marty Alvarez take the hicatee’s measurements so that she can be entered into TIDE’s hicatee database.

TIDE’s Terrestrial Biologist Elmar Requena met with the turtle and her rescuers, confirming that it was indeed a young female hicatee. At TIDE headquarters she was secured in a cooler with clean water and covered with fig branches, which is what she would generally use in the wild for both shelter and food. Once Mr. Requena verified that the turtle was healthy, TIDE’s research team took her measurements and added her into the database for the hicatee monitoring program before preparing her for release in her natural habitat in the Rio Grande.

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Isabel Carrio, one of the turtle’s rescuers, releases her into Rio Grande so she can return to her natural habitat.

This successful release is thanks to the Conservation Leadership Programme, who funded TIDE’s hicatee awareness campaign, and caring individuals from the community like Isabel and Elizabeth. TIDE continues to help this threatened species recover and later this month, on Feb 25th and 26th, Mr. Requena will be attending a hicatee symposium at the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE). Here he will be sharing what TIDE has learned from the hicatee research and monitoring program with representatives from Mexico, Guatemala and Belize so that its status as an IUCN-listed species can be updated. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates on that!

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TIDE’s terrestrial biologist Elmar Requena and Ranger Eugenio Ah, Isabel Carrio and Elizabeth Kearns prepare to release the turtle.

Date: February 12, 2016 Author: dwarns
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