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Oct 21, 2022

Killing Protected Animals Can Land You in Court

In part one of this week’s episode of Belize on Reel, we showed you how the jaguar and the puma coexist along what is described as their biological corridors across Belize and how humans encroach on their natural habitat, clearing away the forests for agricultural purposes. Jaguar and Puma specialist, Dr. Omar Figueroa said that while agriculture is also important in order to meet Belize’s growing population, depleting the forests and wildlife would throw the ecology off-balance, creating an abundance of other animals that these wildcats feed on, and that in turn would result in the depletion of the resources they use for food. We’ll hear in another story about the role that the Ministry of Agriculture can play to help balance growth with conservation. Today, News Five’s Marion Ali takes a look at the origins of the jaguar and the puma and what it means when you kill them.


Marion Ali, Reporting

Jaguars and pumas have shown their ability to coexist and hunt in the same spaces, but did you know that they are more closely related to other types of cats, than to each other? Jaguar and Puma expert, Doctor Omar Figueroa explains.


Omar Figueroa

Dr. Omar Figueroa, Jaguar and Puma Expert

“The puma is more closely related to the cheetah and to the jaguarundi that we have here in Belize.  Jaguars are actually more closely related to the tiger and to the lion, which we don’t have those here.”


But how is it possible that the closest relative of the jaguar is another species of cats that is not found anywhere in this region? It dates back to roughly two hundred million years ago, when the Earth was comprised of only one enormous ocean that surrounded one supercontinent called Pangaea.


Dr. Omar Figueroa

“The world was actually shaped a little bit differently. You had land masses more connected where animals migrated and of course when the ice started to melt and the land masses started to separate then some species got caught on one side and some on the other side.”


It happened that five kinds of wildcats ended up along this hemisphere and in Belize. Aside from the jaguars and the pumas, we have smaller cats like ocelots, margays and jaguarundis that all feed on an array of other animals in the wild. These other types of cats also come under threat from humans, not always because of agricultural expansions, but by poachers who extract parts of their body to make money.


Shamir Quan

Shamir Quan, Ranger, Attached to Walter Zoo Enforcement Unit

“At times they only want a certain part of the animal and they would just literally leave the rest to rotten, which is no use. I mean, you’re going to kill a big jaguar – imagine you’re killing a female jaguar or a female puma just to take out a tooth.  All their young would suffer. Usually when they would find a big cat they would just kill mom and then what would happen to the little cat, the little cat would go and can’t survive.”


Shamir Quan is part of a six-week training that focuses on safely capturing jaguars to tag them for research and releasing them back into the wild. He says that not only is it illegal to kill these animals, but it also threatens us humans as well.


Shamir Quan

“Convincing them to stop would have to come from them. I can only tell them that if these things will continue occurring we will have a depletion and our future and the future kids won’t have the experience of that and all of these will affect later on the system that we live in.”


The Wildlife Protection Act spells out that it is illegal to hunt any of the species that is threatened, or to carry wildlife, or wildlife parts. People who are found to have committed such an offence under the Wildlife Protection Act may be charged, and fined or face imprisonment. The advice that rangers and wildlife experts give is that protected animals should be left in the wild and if you’re lucky enough to spot a big cat, just admire its beauty. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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