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Omar Figueroa

Omar Figueroa

Omar Figueroa

Senator of Belize (United Democratic Party)
National Coordinator, Birds Without Borders (1997-2003)
Jaguar Researcher (2007-present) and Jabiru Stork Researcher (2003-2007)
Languages: Spanish, English
BS., Biology (University of North Florida) and Ph.D. Candidate
“I would like to see my children and my children’s children grow up in the Belize that I’ve gotten to enjoy. I want them to be able to experience the beauty of natural areas without them having to travel all over the world. I want to help people to see and appreciate all that Belize has to offer today.”
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How did you originally come to Runaway Creek?

I was originally hired to be the National Coordinator of Birds Without Borders. I had just gotten my undergraduate degree in Biolgoy. At the time Belize did not have a univeristy degree that had that program and so I did it at The University of North Florida. I had a couple of different job opportunitieis after finishing my degree but I wanted to be more involved in wildlife resources.

What factors incluenced your decision to study Jabiru?

I looked at Belize and I think we are in somewhat of a unique position within Central America. We have a lot of land under natural forest cover. This gives us the opportuity to create some very viable conservation strategies. We have the forested cover and if we guide the right research we can guide the right natiaonl conservation strategies. Jabiru are the one of the largest flying birds in mesoamerica. They use a very large environmental spacial scale with wide spacial requirements. They nest in forested landscapes and forrage in wetlands. So when you look at the critical habitats of these birds you look at both systems. A conservation strategy for these birds requires that you look at both systems and this leads to the protection of multiple other species.

What factors incluenced your decision to study Jaguar?

I picked jaguar for similar reasons. Now looking at both a terrestrial animal and one that flies you can define conservation strategies that will cover an even greater breadth of environmental habitats. All these animlas have wide spacial requirements. The jaguar is terrestrial. Jabiru flying. Jaguars are mostly forested. Jabiru more wetlands. If you identify the ciritcal habitats of these animals you will end up protecting most of the species that we have here in Belize. Also with regards to the jaguar one of the main challenges that the conservation community in Belize feels is connectivity. There is the selva maya in the north and the maya mountain masif in the south. Becauswe of the way that the country is set up the western highway divides our country in half. The major challenge in the last few decades is to connect these two isolated blocks. You need to connect the gene pools or you will begin to isolate animals which leads to extirpation. That’s why i’m studying jaguar and puma.

Runawy Creek is a very important part of the puzzle. It is a small part but it is a critical part. If you lose Runaway Creek you will begin to lose huge areas to the east – then all the land to the east. Pecari Hills National Park will become less important and connecting the other to main areas (fill in here). The Pecari Hills National Park will become isolated and much less important.

What do you find most fulfilling from your work in conservation?

What drives me in conservation is the opportunity to really make some changes in Belize. One of the unique things in Belize is that the window of opportunity is still open for us to cosnerve smartly. If i look across mesoamerica to my borther and sisten countries I can see that they’re struggling and much of their habitat has already been lost. We can still use the intact protected areas and the remaining species here in Belize to study their habitat and what areas are most critical to protect. We have an opporunity to make sound decisions based on concrete ecological research to impact policy and legislation.

What does Runaway Creek represent to conservation on a world scale?

Well you have an animal like the Jabiru stork which is a regionally endangered species. Recent research has shown that the mesoamerican Jabiru is genetically distinct to those in south america. Runawawy Creek has two nests that are producing on a yearly basis. Then if you’re looking at jaguars one of the main challenges that you’re trying to do is to establish the jaguar cooridor all the way from Mexico to Argentina. We are trying to keep these animlas from being extirpated. Runaway Creek is an extrmeley imporant part of this coridor. The animals have to flow through Runaway Creek in the central region.

As we begin to look at the world wide scale and quanitfy and project these changes internationally, it would begin to paint a very ominous picture. Especially in countries like Belize we need a helping hand because we’re a developing country. Runaway Creek is an example of Dr. Boese coming in and doing a very admirable job in assisting the activities here. The property is coming up for sale and it begs the question – not only in Belize are we facing these challenges but this is going on across the planet. If successful people like Dr. Boese is having these struggles, it paints a scary picture of what can happen because if you start losing these pieces of land you will start to lose the last critical pieces of connectivity. You have to admire Dr. Boese and his determination and everything he’s been doing to salvage and insure habitats so that future generations both here in Belize and across the world can come to appreciate the cultural value and biodiversity of these places. Runawy Creek is such positioned in such a unique location because it’s a short drive from Belize city and the western highway. At such a close proximity you can see well over 300 species of birds documented here in addition to spider monkeys, howeler monkies… there’s just so many species here it’s incredible. For example in all of Belize there are 5 species of cats in the wild. At Runaway Creek we have all five. So it’s physically small but very diverse and very strategically located.

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

Growing up in Belize, I think many of us take the natural environment for granted. It’s green everywhere. We have one of the lowest population densities across Latin America which leaves so much room for undeveloped green spaces. When I came back from my undergraduate degree in Florida I got the opportunity to do some aerial surveys of Belize. What was shocking to me was to see the patterns of land use and see the changes occuring here. It occured to me that if these patterns were to continue into the future we would lose a lot of habitat. I would like to see my children and my children’s children grow up in the Belize that I’ve gotten to enjoy. I want them to be able to experience the beauty of natural areas without them having to travel all over the world. I want to help people to see and appreciate all that Belize has to offer today. It is a very unique and diverse country.

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