Happy Hicatee Month! Meet the Central American River Turtle
The Central American River Turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in Central America, growing up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) in length. They have elongated heads and large nostrils, and the males can be identified by the yellowish crown on top of their head.
This turtle is native to Central America–including Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize–and can be found primarily in large lakes and rivers. In fact, the Hicatee is a fully aquatic species that spends nearly 100% of its time in water. This turtle draws water into its throat, where specialized gill-like structures absorb oxygen from the water, allowing them to stay submerged for a virtually unlimited amount of time.
Unfortunately, the Central American River Turtle faces many threats, and is listed as one of the top 25 most endangered species of freshwater turtle in the world. Over-collection has wiped out populations in many areas of their range, and decimated those still clinging to existence. The population of this species in Mexico has been nearly eliminated, and that of Guatemala are largely unknown; Belize continues to be the strongest remaining foothold for these turtles. However, despite their protected status in Belize, they are still poached for their meat.
To combat the decline of the Hicatee, in 2010 Turtle Survival Alliance, in partnership with the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), launched a multi-prong conservation effort. This effort included establishing a captive breeding program to create assurance colonies at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC), the BFREE Field Station in southern Belize.
Follow along with us this month as we celebrate this Critically Endangered species, share more about our research, conservation efforts, and community engagement in Belize.
We’d like to thank all of our partners for their support on this program: Government of Belize – Belize Fisheries Department, Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), Zoo New England, Missouri State University, Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic, Belize Zoo, Birmingham Zoo, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Wildlife Conservation Society – Belize, Jacksonville Zoo, Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo
Pictured: Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii)
Countries of Origin: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize
Habitat: Large rivers, lakes, oxbows, flooded forests
Wild Population: Decreasing; extirpated from many areas of its historic range; surviving populations highly reduced
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered
Threats: Unsustainable harvesting for human consumption, and habitat degradation
Photos courtesy of Heather Barrett, BFREE.
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