Trip Start Aug 29, 2005
Trip End Jun 01, 2006

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Flag of Belize  ,
Monday, November 21, 2005

Tuesday, today will be my first day in the field. I am going to Cocks Comb to get some gps data and log tree species into my field book, which I will research latter. The goal is to develop a little booklet that has information about the park's plants and to create trail maps. Cocks Comb is known for its high Jaguar population. It is hard to actually see a Jaguar but much more likely to see Jaguar prints. I see neither. However, a lot of Jaguar research takes place here because Belize has the highest Jaguar population in all of South America. Currently, Belize is planning to build a damn, which is still pending because it is controversial. Some feel that is could really impact the Jaguar population.
By car it takes three hours to get there. Nellie, who is in charge of Cocks Comb is driving. She is leaving BAS (Belize Audubon Society) soon to go back to school in Costa Rica. The other woman is Tanya. She collects information on illegal activity to give to other organizations. BAS , when they catch people breaking the law in their preserves collect the data and then other organizations prosecute.
Cocks Comb is right next to a Mayan Village. BAS does a lot of work with villagers, retraining and educating the people, especially fishermen to stop over fishing. A lot of the fishermen in Cocks Comb have been retrained as tourists' guides and park rangers. Fishing in the park is illegal. We did not know until we got there that one of the tour guides was caught fishing illegally. The call was from the Mayan's women's group. They wanted to talk with Nellie.
"Great," Nellie said, "today is my last day and I have to deal with this."
The town is small and tranquil. The women are traditionally dressed with bright skirts. Children play in the stream while women wash clothes. There is a small shop and a butterfly farm. Women have been trained by the women's center to make jewelry and other items to sell to tourist. Most of the jewelry is from Cohune palm, which is sustaining. This is a good way to help protect the natural resources.
The women were angry about the illegal fishing. One of their main concerns was that even though the fish were taken away but because the village is so small, the man still got his fish back. What happened was the illegal catch was given to the Mayan's women center. They decided to give it away to other families, but the families knew whose fish it was so they gave it back to him. The women felt that this sent out the wrong message and that there is a need for immediate consequence. They wanted BAS to do something.
After the meeting I met the head park ranger, a quit and passionate man with a strong jaw and bold head with a small rounded point at the top. The next stop was the tribal leader. The thatched roof hut was round with mosquito nets nailed to the windows. He had been sleeping. He greeted us with sleep still in his eyes, a short, stout man with a firm but soft handshake.
"What do you think we should do?" Nellie asked.
He said that was disappointed (the disappointment and frustration was apparent in his expression) after all of the education and retraining BAS had given them about the importance of sustainability and yet they still fished in the park. He said he just couldn't understand it. He also talked about the factions and tensions within the tribe. People were fighting, some changing their story because they want to back up this person while other were angry at them for changing their story. It gets complex. In essence he felt that there was a need to press charges.
At the basin of Cocks Comb there was another meeting with the rangers. I look at the visitors' center and the cabins. The visitors' center is infested with termites but the cabins are nice. I did not get a chance to go on any trails but they look interesting. Victoria's peak, the highest peak in Belize is close to here.
Last stop, Mr. Chun's house, the man caught fishing illegally. First, there was just small talk. I could tell he was nervous by his darting eyes and short quick jesters. He rents intertubes to the tourist. He talked about the need for a more permanent embankment. Currently, the heavy rains deteriorate the embankment and he constantly needs to divert the trail to another embankment which causes too much of a disturbance to the surrounding wildlife. Then he cuts to the chase.
"I know what I did and I am not going to hide from it or make any excuses. I am just wondering about what BAS is going to do about it."
"Well, Mr. Chun we are going to collect the evidence and then hand it over to the forestry department. They are the ones who will prosecute. I will be leaving for school but Tonya will be taking over for me. If you have any questions just contact her."
"I'm not going to say that I am not guilty," Mr. Chun said, looking worried, "I just happened to be sitting there and realized that it was my favorite fishing spot. I haven't fished there for thirteen years but this morning I thought that I would take the chance. It was the wrong time to do it for they caught me fishing." The head ranger was wreathing with anger. His face was getting redder, mouth twisting and his arms tightly crossed. Mr. Chun then went on to say how he had reported so and so doing illegal stuff and nothing ever happened to him. Nellie reminded him that this was not his first offense. He had a long drown out excuse for all of them.
"He was lying through is teeth." Tonya stated in the truck.
"You just have to hear them out." Nellie said. "It makes them feel better that their side is being heard."
Currently, the Maya people, especially the women are angry with BAS because prosecution is taking so long. Here is where the cultures clash. Since the village is small they have their own government. When a law is broken punishment is immediate. BAS explains to them that this will take a long time before anything can be done. First, evidence must be collected and then the case will go to court and even then there is not guarantee. The women's group is frustrated.
I thought that it was interesting to see the dynamics of the village and to see how BAS works with the people. They really want to work with the people not against the people. It was refreshing to see a very straightforward approach to the problem which is still trying to be resolved. Another thing that I was shocked about was that I, a volunteer was included in all of the discussions. Nothing was hidden.
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