In May, CAVU worked with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize Audubon and the Panthera Foundation to create a local outreach campaigned aimed at identifying the result of 25 years of maintaining a Jaguar Preserve in the Cockscomb.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was the world’s first jaguar reserve, created in 1983 thanks largely to the efforts of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, a world-renowned biologist who began his career in big cat conservation deep in the rainforests of Central Belize. Rabinowitz is a long-time friend of CAVU and, as the former jaguar program director for the Wildlife Conservation Society and now CEO of Panthera Foundation, is one of this project’s most ardent supporters.
Today the park, its jaguar and their prey thrive – a shining example of an intact ecosystem that protects a full complement of species, from keystone predators to a unique array of plants, insects and animals.
This project presented a special challenge to CAVU. Around the park’s perimeter, depressed Mayan communities struggle to reap the benefits of this wild area. Government and private funding is tight. Ecotourism helps only a scant few. The benefits of the park are sometimes lost in the struggle of everyday life.
Thanks to the enthusiastic field support of Belize Audubon Society, funding from the Wildlife Conservation Society, and intellectual support from Panthera Foundation CAVU delved into this thorny topic – seeking to better understand, and convey, the benefits of the park and the difficulties faced by surrounding communities.
In trips to the communities, local citrus groves, ranches and tourism centers, CAVU discovered a deep-rooted pride in the park. The people of the Mayan communities believe strongly in its importance and desperately seek support for help in establishing businesses to take economic advantage of the opportunities at their doorstep.They also feel a cultural connection to the park: the jaguars it protects were considered deities in Ancient Mayan religion – and their carvings grace many of the ruins that remain in Belize.
The Mayan people and their enthusiasm set the tone for the film, as they always do in CAVU productions – and this sense of pride quickly evolved into the main theme. Over the course of 10 days of filming, the CAVU team captured the excitement of a middle school trip to the Cockscomb, visited with ranchers, set camera traps with scientists and conducted overflights to survey threats along the park’s perimeter.
Our findings? Jaguars here are well protected, in large part thanks to the efforts and understanding of the people that live, study and work in the park. And although some community’s members lack understanding of the park’s benefit they are eager to learn more about conservation not only of the jaguar but also of their own lands. They are proud of the abundance of their healthy ecosystem and their history of protecting the elusive jaguar.
Immediately after production, the team screened a preliminary, field-cut version of the film to enormous crowds in a school in Maya Center and a hurricane center Maya Mopan. The reaction was one of gratitude, and thanks – and the smiles on people’s faces as they watched friends and family appear on screen spoke for themselves.
The completed film will be released at the end of July and will be used as a local educational tool by facilitators and educators. It will also be made available on the web to incorporate its uses in other Jaguar Conservation Regions and to increase awareness in the international community about the significance of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.