Photos & text by SAVE THE FROGS! Ecologist Michael Starkey
Belize is a wonderful little country located east of Guatemala and nestled beneath the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Like many countries in Central America, Belize is a hotspot of biodiversity. Belize is home to 37 amphibian species. In January 2012, SAVE THE FROGS! Ecologist Michael Starkey traveled to Belize for 12 days to help spread the message of amphibian conservation and to promote appreciation of wildlife and nature through education. Michael met with Belizean biologists, gave presentations about amphibian ecology and conservation, distributed educational materials and surveyed and photographed frog populations. SAVE THE FROGS! has since returned to Belize several times to educate locals and foreigners about frog conservation. If you like this page, please make a tax-deductible donation to help me SAVE BELIZE'S FROGS! Then just email us to ask us to direct your donation towards our Belize efforts. Thanks!
You are cordially invited to join SAVE THE FROGS! on an amazing 10-day eco-tour of Belize June 19th to June 28th, 2014! The trip will be led by SAVE THE FROGS! Advisory Committee Chairman Michael Starkey and SAVE THE FROGS! Ecologist Kathlyn Franco! We will also be accompanied by Mayan naturalists and field guides. Belize is home to many amphibian species, as well as an array of bats, birds, lizards, corals and other amazing wildlife, so please join us! Learn more here. You can see amazing photos of our 2013 eco-tour here.
Belize is a country with a small, but growing population. With a population of roughly 350,000, people are beginning to spread out into the countryside. Little is known about the amphibians of Belize and more studies are needed to understand their ecology. Loss of habitat through deforestation is one of the major threats to the flora and fauna of Belize and is definitely affecting amphibian populations. There is also pesticide usage within the country, with little to no regulation implemented in some areas. The threat of the nefarious chytrid fungus is an issue to amphibians, as it has already driven many Central American species to complete extinction.
Lastly, while there is environmental awareness within the country, there is a general lack of understanding or appreciation of the importance of amphibians. There is a greater need for more education to persuade and convince people that amphibians are crucial for maintaining the health of ecosystems and are a benefit to the people of Belize.
Cane toads are huge, charming toads with tons of personality. When you gently pick them up for a photo, they immediately sound a release call. They are known as an invasive species in Australia, but these beautiful toads are native to Central America and incredibly important to bringing balance to the ecosystem.
This is a very common toad in Belize.
This is a common and beautiful species!
This common species has a wonderful splash of neon green coloration beneath their eyes.
By SAVE THE FROGS! Advisory Committee Chairman Michael Starkey
As SAVE THE FROGS' Advisory Committee Chairman, I work to rally together scientists, volunteers, and others in order to help broaden SAVE THE FROGS' mission of protecting amphibian populations and promoting a society that respects and appreciates nature wildlife. Wherever I travel, I try to spread this message of amphibian conservation. Belize was uncharted territory for SAVE THE FROGS!, so when I took a vacation there in January 2012 I wanted to also be sure to spread the word about amphibian conservation.
I had been to Belize before in 2008 and 2010, and each time I return I fall deeper in love with this beautiful country. When you visit a place multiple times, each experience is different. You see the same sites in a new light, under a new perspective, and it makes the experience that much more wonderful. While traveling around the country, if we stopped somewhere, I was immediately out looking for frogs. Whether it was in the forest, or in a drainage ditch, frogs we found!
A typical scene when a frog was found: Cameras and Field Guides.
After spending the first few days in the forest, I was getting eager to give a presentation. I was very happy and excited to give my first presentation, which was at the school in Blue Creek, a small Maya village in Southern Belize.
In this photo, the students are bringing their own chairs from the school house to come watch my talk in another building. They were all very excited to hear me speak.
Now, after the children had settled I was able to begin my presentation. This was an incredibly interesting experience as I have never given a talk outside of the United States. As of writing this, I have given presentations to at least 1,000 children. When I began my talk, I asked the kids, "How many of you like Frogs?". Silence. Oh boy, I thought they would be a tough crowd!
These children live incredibly different lives than children in the states. These children are poor and live in a small village in Belize. Their concerns are related to their parents concerns: When will the harvest come? What can I make to sell to tourists to provide an income for my family? Basically, they are thinking of surviving. Amphibians are just there, part of the forest, and that is about the extent of thought that goes towards amphibians. There is no appreciation, because there is no understanding or reason for why they should be appreciated.
So, how do you make kids appreciate something that they have no natural fondness for? Through passion and education.
"Do you guys like MOSQUITOES?" and in reply they shout, "Noooooooooooo!". Then I explained how frogs eat mosquitoes and other bad bugs that cause disease. I explained to them how amphibians have amazing skin that can be used to make medicines, just like plants from the rainforest! They understood how saving amphibians is important, just as saving the forest is important.
It was truly a rewarding experience for me to speak to this group of students. Many of them enjoyed looking at the printed slides of different amphibian species from around the world.
There was a point where I thought I was losing their attention, so when in doubt...make frog calls. Frog calls are the key to bringing the focus back to any presentation (plus, they love to call back!).
Goofing off with my camera after the presentation. The child with the backpack had already gone home from school, but came back to see my presentation later in the day. He told me that he actually liked frogs and wanted to save them! Awesome!
That night we were able to spend some time in the village. One family was showing our group traditional Marimba music and an interesting type of dance that goes along with it. I am not much for dancing, but when I discovered some of the kids playing outside, I left the party and started hanging out with the kids. One of them actually found a Foam Frog (Leptodactylus fragilis), and I was able to tell them all about this little frog. I explained to them how it likes to live in burrows and how it makes a foamy nest within its home. They definitely had a new appreciation for frogs!
One of the members in our group, Rosalinda Vizina, shows this little Foam Frog, (Leptodactylus fragilis), to some very interested girls!
A few days later, I was also able to give a presentation to people on a small island called South Water Caye about the Amphibian Extinction Crisis. The talk was given to my group of fellow travelers, island staff, and some locals that happened to drop in for my talk. South Water Caye is a 17 acre island known for its beautiful, sandy beaches and biologically rich coral reefs that surround the island.
I was getting comfortable during my time there and this was definitely one of the most relaxed presentations I have ever given!
Two women approached me after my talk to ask my help with a "frog problem". They told me that they had an issue with their dogs eating these huge toads in their yards (Cane Toads, Bufo marinus). After their dogs would eat them, they would froth at the mouth, and then die! They were incredibly upset about this, but I explained to them that there was an easy solution to their problem. I explained how the toads defend themselves by having large poison glands (parotoid glands) behind their head. Besides this poison, I explained how they toads are essentially harmless to humans and can be moved very easily to another location. With vigilance, their dogs would be ok. I convinced them that toads were actually good to keep around, by eating cockroaches, mice, and even snakes. This fact completely sold them that toads were good to have nearby! They told me they would never kill another one of those toads.
Saving Toads in Belize!
When we returned back to the mainland, most of our group had to rush to the airport to head back home. So I and another individual were dropped off at the Belize Zoo, where I was able to give my last presentation in Belize. The Belize Zoo is an amazing institution. Their exhibits are carved around already existing forest, so the animals appear if they are actually in the jungle. The Belize Zoo is also involved in captive breeding efforts with endangered species and are responsible for considerable conservation efforts with preserving habitat for the Harpy Eagle and the Jaguar. It was a pleasure speaking to staff and some of their interns about the threats facing amphibians around the globe.
SAVE THE FROGS! with the staff of the Belize Zoo
"A big thank you to Michael Starkey of the Save The Frogs initiative, for a fantastic presentation to the TBZ staff! With 200 amphibians gone extinct since 1979, and over 2000 more threatened to disappear this century, there is a great need to help save those long legged leapers. From being excellent pest control, to vital food sources for many carnivores (including humans!), frogs are definitely worth saving." – The Belize Zoo
Our group was able to travel through much of Central and Southern Belize. In between destinations we visited two Mayan archaeological sites, Xunantunich and Lubaantún. Mayan culture has always interested me and it was a pleasure to see these amazing spectacles of human ingenuity.
Spreading the word atop Xunantunich
My friend and fellow frog-saver, Wyatt Erwin, brought the style of amphibian conservation to Belize:
SAVE THE FROGS! representing at Lubaantún. We look pretty good in our SAVE THE FROGS! organic cotton T-shirts!
I returned to Belize in July 2012 to continue spreading SAVE THE FROGS' amphibian conservation message. I gave more presentations and worked to grow Belize's network of students, academics and biologists interested in amphibian conservation efforts. I was especially excited to go to villages in areas of high amphibian biodiversity to encourage children and adults to understand the importance of amphibians within their local ecosystems.
Prior to our Ecotour, we gave presentations to these tour guides and vet students:
Our inaugural Belize Ecotour was a huge success! We taught our group of 14 American participants all about tropical ecology, visited some amazing places and found lots of incredible wildlife. Please look at the SAVE THE FROGS! 2013 Ecotour page to see lots of photos.
Much of my travels are paid out of my own pocket, so I need your help to raise the funds necessary to continue my amphibian conservation efforts in Belize! Please visit my Belize Fundraising page to make a tax-deductible donation and help me bring my passion for amphibian conservation back to Belize. I will be certain to list you on this webpage in acknowledgement of your generous contribution. Thank you so much for your support!
What an experience it was to spread the message of amphibian conservation to Belize! Big thanks to the many supportive individuals that helped fund make this trip to Belize possible. Thank you to International Zoological Expeditions, The Belize Zoo, Tropical Education Center, and to the many scientists, conservationists, and academic professors that provided advice and support to help make this trip a reality. Special thanks to these financial supporters:
Christine and Bart Mehlhop
Mr & Mrs Starkey
Chase and Adrienne George
Enciu Cristian Alexandru
Belize Travel Adventures
Beyond Touring Belize
Lloyd OBrien Jr.
Kerry Kriger, Ph.D.
This is just part one of a two part adventure, so please check back for updates!
Mexican Treefrog -- Smilisca baudinii