On Friday, December 20, 2013, there was a great deal of excitement following eyewitness reports of a puma south of San Pedro Town. While Sanpedranos are very proud of their marine and land creatures, there was also, understandably a great deal of concern and fear about this uncommon and large predator in a populated, residential area. Mayor Daniel Guerrero did the right thing and immediately called the Belize Wildlife Conservation Networks’ (BWCN) Wildlife Advice Hotline for advice and assistance.
This hotline is for the general public to report injured, orphaned, nuisance or abused wildlife. When a response is necessary they partner with the Forest Department and any relevant wildlife organization to ensure the best outcome for the caller and animal concerned. Because this is a voluntary organization with no paid members, funds were sought privately to fly a team to San Pedro to investigate as it appeared to be a matter of urgency. Unfortunately, the puma had disappeared by the time they had arrived and due to heavy rains; there was very little evidence that allowed them to gather information about the puma.
One of the team members was from Panthera, an organization that specializes in studying and conserving large cats in Belize. Dr. Bart Harmsen of Panthera said;
“You are probably wondering if you are in danger from this cat. Give a cat room to escape and they will do this. It is unlikely that this cat will attack people if not driven into a corner. This does not mean you should not be cautious, especially with children and pets. If you see the cat try and stay calm and do not turn your back on it or run away. Enjoy the sighting as many of you may have never seen a wild puma. If the cat approaches you - it will most likely move away- no matter what, stand your ground and wave your arms around and shout. This will assure it will move away.
If reliable reports keep coming in that the cat remains around the town, we have to act and try and trap this cat and remove it from its location. For this we need your help.
Please only report what you have seen yourself. Do not report what your neighbor or friend told you. Give them information about where to report it and ask them to do it themselves. Second hand information is not useful to us. By collecting accurate information, we hope to be able to take solid action. We need photographs of the cat, CCTV footage, photographs of tracks and personal eye witness accounts. You can make these reports by emailing the BWCN at [email protected], texting BWCN on 605-8888 or by calling the BTL toll-free wildlife advice hotline on 0800-822-8888 or 822-8888 (for Smart customers). You can also contact the Forest Department during normal working hours on 822-1524.”
The BWCN reminds the public that there may not always be an immediate response to reports solid information has been gathered, so please make sure that when you call you are able to provide detailed information to them to help them assess the situation. All reports are taken seriously and a map of sightings is being created to help identify the range and habits of this puma to make tracking and trapping possible if it becomes necessary.
Many people are not aware that Ambergris Caye has a 12,000 acre wildlife reserve on the northern tip, which is part of Bacalar Chico. There is a lot of wildlife there including jaguar, puma and other wild cats. As development on the north of the island spreads, sightings will become more common and large wildlife may appear in residential areas more often, so it is important that the community works hand in hand with BWCN and the Forest Department to and to keep everyone safe, while preserving our precious wildlife for generations to come.