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Reynold Cal

Rey

Reynold Cal

Runaway Creek Manager (2001-present)
Languages: Koetchy Maya, English
Expertise: Jaguars, Birds, Caves, Fishes


“My grandfather and father worked milpa plantations in the forest when I was a child. Already at the age of seven I was going into the forest to find them and fetch corn. I got used to the rain and insects and other challenges of the forest. It’s just that I enjoy nature so much. I enjoy watching wildlife. I enjoy the peace and silence of the forest.”

What are your daily responsibilities?

I have been at Runaway Creek for many years now. I make sure that all research objectives are carried out accordingly. I’m assigned to assist with the jaguar research, trap monitoring, trap setup, and jaguar surveys. With the Birds Without Borders program I would do misnetting and bird banding, point counts, census, bird identification, nest searching and monitoring. I also do vegetation measurements and identification. Cave exploration. During phase II of the Rapid Ecological Assessment I was the leader of cave exploration and assisted with the documentation of many of the reserve’s plants and animals.

Which of your responsibilities do you most fulfilling?

I started out being very afraid of caves but after finding intact potteries and remains of the ancient Mayan civilization I began to lose my fear. It took about one month of caving to become adjusted to caving. After getting over my fear we were going more to the back of the caves and exploring the back chambers more carefully. I started to get really interested after finding intact potteries. It was extremely interesting to be a part of finding the artifacts because I was helping to uncover the Mayan history and because I’m Mayan myself. With the Jaguar Research, I find it very interesting because the jaguar is a very feared animal. When I was young, just with the mention of the word jaguar you feel fear. But to actually be dealing with them and holding them, tracking them, and putting collars on them. It’s all very interesting. It’s the biggest cat in the hemisphere.

How did you originally come to Runaway Creek?

I was originally a school teacher before coming to Runaway Creek. I didn’t agree much with it very much. I was looking for the chance of a more exciting and fulfilling opportunity. I originally came on with the Birds Without Borders project. I applied for the job and was one of the successful applicants. Coming in I didn’t know anything about birds at all – only a very few names in Maya. After 3 months of misnetting and bird banding I already had a really good hold on the identification of the birds. I hold them, look at them, and study their features. It all builds on itself with the continued research and I now feel very confident. There a lot of tour guides in belize but very few are specialized in birding. It’s a very good learning experience. After that, when the bird banding subsided, that was when we had more time to begin exploring Runaway Creek. We started the REA in 2004. It gradually changed into plant identification, caving, and expanded from there.

Why did you decide to work in conservation?

I like the field very much. In my village it’s all forest all around and I’m very used to being in the field. I know how to move around in the forest because since childhood that’s what I was doing. When I started to work with bird banding in the forest it was all very exciting. I don’t mind getting up early – as early as 4am – I’m ready to work. It’s not really work for me. It’s all a lot of fun – exploring, going to new places, and so on. My grandfather and father worked milpa plantations in the forest when I was a child. Already at the age of seven I was going into the forest to find them and fetch corn. I got used to the rain and insects and other challenges of the forest. It’s just that I enjoy nature so much. I enjoy watching wildlife. I enjoy the peace and silence of the forest.

What is your favorite part of working in conservation?

From my childhood days we never heard much about conservation. Now my interests are what I see – now it’s important to me to let the younger generations get a feel for conservation. If I would have known more about conservation as a kid I might have gotten into it sooner. Nature is there to be enjoyed and preserved.

What does Runaway Creek represent to local conservation in Belize?

Runaway Creek, as you can see on the map, it’s bordered by developments. There are fish farms, citrus farms, and so if we continue with that then all the wildlife habitat will be destroyed. I think what is unique about Runaway Creek is the wildlife conservation. It connects from the Maya mountains to the south and west of the country to the hills in the north. I’ve found that Runaway Creek is very rich in wildlife. In my village I haven’t seen spyder monkeys or jaguars although we have a lot of forest. The great currasow – a very large and wild turkey – is very rare because it is hunted so much. They are here and abundant at Runaway Creek.

What do you see as the mission of Runaway Creek

I’m not sure if it’s written, but Runaway Creek is an education conservation. The three main goals are research, education, and conservation. To me conservation is the most important. It’s not everywhere that you can see wildlife the way it is at runaway creek. Morelet crocodiles. Even in my home village I don’t see these. If we were to someday lose Runaway Creek to development then all those wildlife would disappear. There are some species that if they experience even a small amount of disturbance they will change their habitat and leave.

How do you see education in the role of Runaway Creek’s mission?

Education is very good to make the younger generation – especially in primary school or secondary school – to be aware that we have such land in Belize. To the west of Runaway Creek and around we have so much poaching. There is very little in Runaway Creek.

Can you speak more on the effects of poaching in Belize?

Some people go to hunt just for family use, but most of the hunters go to kill whatever game meat they can get. They sell it to the market or local restaurants. A delicacy in Belize is the Gibnut (Paca) and the White Tailed Deer. When we started out our office was in St. Ignaacio. It was a long way to drive. We usually would go to Runaway Creek only twice a week at the most. Runaway Creek was on it’s own. We’d do a quick circle and then come back. We knew there were poachers on the land because they would line the heads of the Paca along the gravel driveway. They would leave parts of the deer carcasses. Now almost every day we try to keep a presence at Runaway Creek. Now we don’t see those kind of animal remains. Presence is very important to protecting the preserve.

How did you feel when you’d see that the poachers had been on Runaway Creek?

I feel sorry for the wildlife in general. Apparently there are some people that are not aware that if you continue to kill populations at such a rate they will just die out. They have no concern for the young ones, pregnant females, they are only concerned with the here and now. They are not thinking of preserving some for the future. They take as much as they can get. It’s very bad for the animals. The animals are not very used to seeing people at the night. For example the Red Brockett Deer will come right up to you if you shine a spotlight at them. I just feel sorry for the animals.

Did you have any turning point in your passion for nature and conservation?

I had a childhood experience that turned me to thinking more about birds. I was not really interested in birds but now I have a curiosity about them. When I was a child I would go to the plantation that was bout 5 miles away in the forest. There was this forested valley basin that we would pass through. I would always hear this little bird singing. It would sing so sweetly that I would always sit down on a rock and listen to it. I would always try to see it but couldn’t. I’d never heard it anywhere else. I’ve always had that melody in my head for my whole life. Then I heard the bird for the first time in many years at Runaway Creek and I recognized it right away. I hadn’t heard it for five years of being at Runaway Creek. It was a very special day. I really love that little bird. It sings very very beautifully. I’m very happy to know its true name now. The bird is not everywhere at Runaway Creek. There is only one valley in all of Runaway Creek where we have documented it. It’s a Nightingale Wren.

What are few of your most memorable days at runaway creek?

When I started to work with birds at Runaway Creek I learned about the neotropical migrants and learned how far they fly. I realized that we have to help in their conservation to protect their habitat because it’s such a long journey. After all that just to come all the way here and be killed is very very sad. It made me realize that there is something very special about these birds. I didn’t know it before. In primary school we just learned the parts of the birds but we don’t know where they come from.

What would be one thing you would might communicate to people given your unique experiences in nature?

Well the main thing is conservation I think. Let us conserve the forest and the fruiting trees because these birds depend on it. A lot of wildlife depends on these fruiting trees. If I ever get a plot of land I will just keep it and let it grow as it is. Maybe I’ll plant some Kahun Tree because so many wildlife come for those fruiting trees. I really feel sad when I see a lot of clearing and destruction to the forest. I read in National Geographic that every ten seconds a plot of land the size of a football field is lost. That is very sad.

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